Castanea sativa, sweet chestnut, is a deciduous tree that is found growing in woods throughout the UK. It is not a UK native – it hails from southern Europe, western Asia and North Africa. It was originally thought to have been brought to Britain by the Romans but it's now thought that it arrived more recently than that. Sweet chestnut is suitable for coppicing and is therefore often grown for its wood, especially in Kent and Sussex.
The leaves of Castanea sativa are long with serrated edges and prominent veins; these turn bronze in autumn before falling. In summer, the tree is covered creamy-yellow male and female catkins. When the tree is around 25 years old, it produces shiny edible and nutritious chestnuts, encased in prickly green shells. These are delicious roasted over a fire and can be ground into flour. These are not to be confused with conkers, which are the inedible fruits of the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) tree.
The catkins of sweet chestnut provide nectar and pollen for bees and other insects, and squirrels eat the nuts. Some species of moth feed on the leaves.
Grow sweet chestnut in sun or partial shade, in moist, well-drained soil. It is a large tree, so is suitable only for very large gardens. However it can be coppiced and kept to a smaller size.
Castanea sativa lives to around 700 years old.
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Advice on buying Castanea sativa
- Make sure you have enough space to grow Castanea sativa – it can reach ultimately reach more than 20m x 15m
- You're likely to find Castanea sativa at a specialist tree nursery or online. Always buy trees from a reputable supplier, who sells British-grown or certified disease-free stock, to guarantee against pests and diseases
- Look out for bare root plants that can be bought and planted in the dormant season – these are usually cheaper
Where to buy Castanea sativa