American Chestnut

Botanical Name :Castanea dentata
Family: Fagaceae
Genus: Castanea
Species: C. dentata
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Fagales

Common Name :American Chestnut

Habitat : Castanea dentata is native to eastern North America. Before the species was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range.

Description:
A rapidly growing deciduous hardwood tree, it reached up to 30–45 meters (100–150 ft) tall and 3 meters (10 ft) in diameter, and ranged from Maine and southern Ontario to Mississippi, and from the Atlantic coast to the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio Valley. There are several related chestnut species, such as the European Sweet Chestnut, Chinese Chestnut, and Japanese Chestnut, which are distinguishable only with difficulty from the American species. C. dentata can be best identified by the larger and more widely spaced saw-teeth on the edges of its leaves, as indicated by the scientific name dentata, Latin for “toothed”. The leaves, which are 14–20 centimeters (5–8 in) long and 7–10 centimeters (3–4 in) broad, also tend to average slightly shorter and broader than those of the Sweet Chestnut. The blight-resistant Chinese Chestnut is now the most commonly planted chestnut species in the U.S. It can be distinguished from the American Chestnut by its hairy twig tips which are in contrast to the hairless twigs of the American Chestnut. The chestnuts are in the beech family along with beech and oak, and are not closely related to the horse-chestnut, which is in the family Sapindaceae.
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The American Chestnut is a prolific bearer of nuts, usually with three nuts enclosed in each spiny green burr, and lined in tan velvet. The nuts develop through late summer, the burrs opening and falling to the ground near the first fall frost.

The American Chestnut was a very important tree for wildlife, providing much of the fall mast for species such as White-tailed Deer and Wild Turkey and, formerly, the Passenger Pigeon. Black Bears were also known to eat the nuts to fatten up for the winter.

Medicinal Uses:
The Indians made a tea from the leaves to treat whooping cough and the same tea has been used as a sedative and tonic.  The bark was used to treat worms and dysentery.

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Other Uses:
The nuts were once an important economic resource in the U.S., being sold on the streets of towns and cities, as they sometimes still are during the Christmas season (usually “roasting on an open fire” so their smell is readily identifiable many blocks away). Chestnuts are edible raw or roasted, though typically preferably roasted. Nuts of the European Sweet Chestnut are now sold instead in many stores. One must peel the brown skin to access the yellowish-white edible portion. The unrelated horse-chestnut’s “conkers” are poisonous without extensive preparation.

The wood is straight-grained, strong, and easy to saw and split, and it lacks the radial end grain found on most other hardwoods. The tree was particularly valuable commercially since it grew at a faster rate than oaks. Being rich in tannins, the wood was highly resistant to decay and therefore used for a variety of purposes, including furniture, split-rail fences, shingles, home construction, flooring, piers, plywood, paper pulp, and telephone poles. Tannins were also extracted from the bark for tanning leather. Although larger trees are no longer available for milling, much chestnut wood has been reclaimed from historic barns to be refashioned into furniture and other items. “Wormy” chestnut refers to a defective grade of wood that has insect damage, having been sawn from long-dead blight-killed trees. This “wormy” wood has since become fashionable for its rustic character.

This tree is not considered a particularly good patio shade tree because its droppings are prolific and a considerable nuisance. Catkins in the spring, spiny nut pods in the fall, and leaves in the early winter can all be a problem. These characteristics are more or less common to all shade trees, but perhaps not to the same degree as with the chestnut. The spiny seed pods are a particular nuisance when scattered over an area frequented by people.

Montreal, Quebec, is famous for its abundance of chestnuts in the downtown core during the autumn months. One may find a festival of ripened harvested chestnuts along rue Sherbrooke. Native Montréalers dub it the Le Festival De La Châtaigne, which generally occurs during the last week of September.

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Chestnut
http://www.herbnet.com/Herb%20Uses_C.htm

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