Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)
Let's start by saying the Sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa, is completely unrelated to Horse chestnut. Horse chestnuts arrived here in the 17th century, whereas it was the Romans who brought Sweet chestnuts to these shores from its range around the Mediterranean. This makes it an "archaeophyte" - not native, but introduced over 1500 years ago. Its Mediterranean origin also makes it resistant to drought. It's a close relation to oak and beech though, although it's insect pollinated and faster growing. It's an attractive and usually trouble free tree bearing female and male flowers on the same plant. They can grow to great size (35m) and age - over 500 years - and develop attractive spiralling fissures in the bark of their main stems. Sweet chestnuts grow best in light sandy soils; they don't like heavy clay or anything calcareous.
Castanea sativa is still an important plant in some parts of Italy; we stumbled across a Sweet chestnut festival in a village outside Perugia a few years back, where locals were roasting the nuts and selling Castanea sativa's rich dark honey. There are cultivars available now which will give you bigger and more nuts than the native tree, and much quicker. They also seem to be more tolerant of a range of soil conditions. Unfortunately the UK's more temperate climate means we can't make the honey here, but the Romans certainly ate the nuts and ground them to make flour - legionaries ate Sweet chestnut porridge before battle. The nuts have lots of starch - and hence make good (gluten free!) flour. The trees were sometimes known as "bread trees", but they have other uses too. Particularly in the southeast, where it's most common and self seeds very happily, you'll find managed coppiced Sweet chestnut plantations. It's a beautiful wood with a straight grain when young, and easy to work. It's most usually coppiced to produce poles or stakes, which we're familiar with as like alder they're resistant to rotting. They're widely used as stakes for erosion mitigation work for riverbanks
Value For Wildlife
Sweet chestnut leaves are eaten by a range of invertebrates, particularly micro moths, but also including the rose chafer. The plants produce good nectar flow in higher temperatures.
Plants For Sale
Provenance certificates are available on request for Castanea sativa, which are from the Southwest of England.
Suppliers: Perrie Hale Forest Nursery, RV Roger
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See our planting and size guide for details and tips on planting. These hazel trees are all bare root, and are consequently available for delivery from November until March (please ask if you are interested in pot grown plants). During the lifting season there may be up to two weeks delay between placing the order and dispatching, due to weather conditions or pressure of orders, which are dealt with in date sequence. Orders placed between March and September are confirmed in October ready for dispatch from November.
Time to Ultimate Height
Over 20 years
Sheltered or exposed
Full or partial sun