Chestntt (castanea vesca, Linn.; castanea vulgaris, Lamb.), a large and handsome tree, valuable both for its timber and fruit, and growing wild in Europe and the United States. Its foliage is ample and graceful, with long patulous boughs; oblong-lanceolate leaves, serrate with pointed teeth, and smooth and green on both sides; clusters of sterile flowers in long, cream-colored, cylindrical catkins; and fertile flowers two or three together in an ovoid prickly involucre at the base of the catkins. There is no corolla; the calyx is 5 or 0 lobed, placed on the summit of the 3-7 celled ovary, and enclosing 5-20 stamens, and 3-7 bristle-shaped stigmas; the nut is ovoid, coriaceous, and farinaceous. The chestnut is among the most beautiful of forest trees, and is conspicuous in the landscapes of Salvator Rosa and other masters. It is common in the forests of southern Europe from the Caucasus to the Atlantic, preferring deep sandy soils and the sides of mountains, and avoiding marshy regions. It is said to have been found by the Romans first at Castanea, a town of Thessaly, near the mouth of the Peneus, whence the fruit was named by them Castanea nux. Some of the oldest and largest trees in the world are of this species.
One of the most famous is that on Mount Etna, which has often been described by travellers, and can be seen from Aci Reale. It is 160 ft. in circumference, and has a hollow trunk, the interior of which serves as a retreat for shepherds and their flocks. It is called the hundred-horse chestnut, from a tradition that Joanna of Aragon once visited it, accompanied by all the nobility of Catania, and that the whole party found protection beneath it from a sudden storm. One of the oldest chestnut trees in England is at Tortworth, in Gloucestershire, which was a boundary mark in the reign of King John; and in France there is a remarkable one at Sancerre, which is believed to be about 1,000 years old, and is still very productive. The chestnut furnishes an excellent and durable timber, which has been thought to be the material of the roof of Westminster abbey, and of the church at Great Yarmouth, erected in the reign of William Rums; but the wood of both those buildings is more probably a species of oak. The fruit is eaten either raw, boiled, or roasted, or is ground into meal, and puddings, cakes, and bread made from it.
It abounds especially in France, on the banks of the Rhine, and on the slopes of the Jura, the Pyrenees, and the Alps; and of the numerous French varieties the most esteemed is the marron. The American chestnut has sometimes been separated from the European as a distinct species, but upon insufficient grounds.
Chestnut (Castanea vesca).
Chestnut Tree of Mount Etna.
Chinquapin (Castanea pumila).
It is also used for the commoner kind of cigar boxes. The European chestnut was introduced into Virginia by Jefferson in the latter part of the last century. - There is a smaller American species, the chinquapin nut (castanea pumila, Michaux), found from Ohio to southern Pennsylvania, growing from 6 to 20 ft. high, having its leaves whitened-downy underneath, and a solitary nut not half so large as the common chestnut, and very sweet and agreeable to eat. - An infusion of the bark of the chestnut has been occasionally employed in medicine. Its action is that of a moderate astringent and tonic, but it has never been much used.