Castanea sativa is commonly known as Sweet Chestnut, Spanish Chestnut, or just plain Chestnut. Native to south Europe and Asia Minor it was introduced into Great Britain by the Romans. It is a substantial, long-lived (c.600 years, although it can live up to 2000 years!) deciduous tree. It can grow to 35 meters tall and two meter trunks are not unknown. The edible seed has been used in cooking since ancient times.
Chestnuts need a mild climate to thrive and produce a heavy seed crop. The catkins (of both sexes) appear in early summer with the seeds maturing in Autumn, making roasted chestnuts a winter tradition. Many insects use its leaves for food. It is grown for its seed as food but is a favourite for coppicing, especially here in Kent. Its tannin means that timber is durable outside and it has been used for fencing for centuries for that reason. It has been used for many purposes including roof beams and barrels and is favoured by wood carvers too. It is rarely used as fuel as the wood ‘spits’ on an open fire.
TUF has not planted this tree as it is currently very prone to the fungus ‘sweet chestnut blight’ which decimated north American trees and is now spreading across Europe.
Funky Facts File: It is sometimes known as the ‘marron’, which is French for chestnut and ‘marrons glacés’ is a favourite way of using it there as a sweetmeat.