This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
Three species of tree or true chestnuts are cultivated in this country for their nuts,-the European Castanea saliva, the American Castanea den-lata, the Japanese Castanea crenata. See Castanea. The horticultural characters that distinguish these three types are as follows:
Tree large, with a spreading but compact head, stocky, smooth-barked twigs and large glossy buds of a yellowish brown color; leaves oblong-lanceolate, abruptly pointed, with coarse sometimes incurved serrations, thick and leathery, generally pubescent beneath when young, but green on both sides when mature. Burs very large, with long branching spines, and a thick velvety lining. Nut larger than American chestnut, sometimes very large, shell dark mahogany-brown, pubescent at tip, thick, tough and leathery; kernel inclosed in a thin tough and astringent skin: quality variable from insipid, astringent to moderately sweet. The leaves remain on the trees until late in autumn, but are more susceptible to the attacks of fungi than the American and Japanese species. At least one variegated and one cut-leaved variety are grown as ornamentals. This species is variously known as European, French, Spanish and Italian chestnut (Castanea sativa), and sweet chestnut of English writers. It is an inhabitant of mountain forests in the temperate regions of western Asia, Europe and north Africa, and is esteemed for its nuts in Spain, France and Italy, where they have constituted an important article of food since an early day.
Introduced to the United States by Irenee Dupont, at Wilmington, Delaware, in 1803, although recorded by Jefferson, under the designation "French chestnut," as grafted by him on native chestnut near Charlottesville (Monticello), Virginia, in 1773.
Fig. 911. A tall straight columnar tree, in forests reaching a height of 100 feet and a diameter of 3 to 4 feet; when grown in the open, forming a low round-topped head of slightly pendulous branches. Leaves thinner than in C. saliva, oblong-lanceolate, acute, long-pointed at the apex, coarsely serrate except toward the wedge-shaped base, green and glabrous on both surfaces, changing to bright clear yellow later in autumn. The staminate flowers open in June or July after leaves have attained full size, and exhale a sweet, heavy odor, disagreeable to many persons, and sometimes causing symptoms of hay-fever. The two- or three-flowered involucres of pistillate flowers are on short stout peduncles at the bases of androgynous aments which bear toward their tips scattered clusters of staminate flowers. Burs smaller and spines sharper than in C. sativa. The nuts, usually two or three, rarely five to seven, are usually broader than long, and much compressed by crowding, although sometimes nearly oblong and approaching cylindrical.
Fig. 911. Native wild chestnuts. (X 3/4)
They are of a bright brown color, covered at the apex with thick pale tomentum, which sometimes extends nearly to the base of the nut. The nuts are sweet and agreeable in flavor, the best among chestnuts, and are marketed in large quantities from the forests of the Appalachian region. Occurs in eastern North America, Maine to Georgia, westward to Michigan, Mississippi and Louisiana. Gradually receding from its southern areas from causes not yet understood. A few selected forms have been propagated by grafting.
Fig. 912. A dwarfish close-headed tree of slender growth, said to attain a height of 50 feet in Japan, with small buds: leaves smaller than other chestnuts, lanceolate-oblong, usually pointed, with a truncate or cordate base, finely serrated, with shallow sharp-pointed indentations, whitish tomentose beneath, pale green above, less subject to injury by fungi than other species. Burs small, with a thin papery lining and short widely branching spines. Nuts large to very large, glossy, usually three, sometimes five or seven in a bur, usually inferior to the other chestnuts in quality, although good when cooked, and in a few varieties excellent in the fresh state. Many cultural varieties are recognized. Introduced to the United States in 1876 by S. B. Parsons, Flushing, New York.
Fig. 912. Japanese chestnuts. (X 1/2)
Aside from these three types, there are certain dwarf and small-fruited castaneas known as chinquapins. The two native chinquapins may be contrasted as follows (page 682):
Fig. 913. A shrub 4 or 5 feet tall, rarely a tree, attaining a height of 50 feet, with slender branchlets marked with numerous minute lenticels, and coated with a pale tomentum, which disappears during the first winter. Leaves oblong, acute and coarsely serrate at apex, bright yellowish green, changing to dull yellow before falling in autumn. Flowers strong-smelling, the catkins of staminate ones appearing with the unfolding leaves in May or June, the spicate androgynous aments later, with pistillate flowers in spiny involucres,
Fig. 913. Chinquapin. (Nut and bur natural size.)
Producing solitary cylindrical nuts 3/4 to 1 inch in length and 1/3 inch diameter, with sweet seeds. This species occurs in dry lands from southern Pennsylvania to Florida and Texas, and its nuts, which ripen earlier than the American chestnut, are esteemed for food and marketed in considerable quantities. The species is sparingly introduced to cultivation and in its native region is being somewhat grafted upon in place with the choicer varieties of chestnuts. It has some promise as a dwarfing stock but is subject to the troublesome fault of suckering rather abundantly. Two named varieties, the Fuller and the Rush, have been published and somewhat propagated. (Upper part of Fig. 913 illustrates common chinquapin bur, and nut in natural size.) Apparent intermediates between this species and the American chestnut, probably of hybrid origin, are found in various localities from Pennsylvania southward and westward to southern Arkansas and eastern Texas, in some localities attaining truly arborescent proportions. (Lower figure in Fig. 913 illustrates bur of hybrid chinquapin.)