1. Family: Fagaceae Dumort.
    1. Genus: Castanea Mill.
      1. Castanea sativa Mill.

        Roasted chestnuts are a well-known Christmas treat in Europe, and Castanea sativa is widely cultivated for these nuts. Sweet chestnut has a trunk that is often very wide for its height, and is also recognisable by its deeply grooved bark and the prickly fruits that contain the nuts.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    Roasted chestnuts are a well-known Christmas treat in Europe, and Castanea sativa is widely cultivated for these nuts. Sweet chestnut has a trunk that is often very wide for its height, and is also recognisable by its deeply grooved bark and the prickly fruits that contain the nuts.

    The hardy nature of Castanea sativa means it still flourishes across large parts of central and western Europe, including Great Britain, where ancient specimens can be found. Ideally it needs a mild climate, as late spring and early autumn frosts can adversely affect flowering. In forests, the shade does not unduly affect its growth and nut harvest as long as it has sufficient moisture.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Sweet chestnut is native to the area stretching from the Balkan Peninsula to northern Iran, and is widely cultivated and naturalised elsewhere.


    Overview:  A deciduous tree up to 35 m tall, with a trunk up to about 2 m in diameter. The bark often has a net-like pattern with deep grooves running up the trunk. 

    Leaves:  16 to 28 cm long, 5 to 9 cm wide (at their widest point), with a serrated or toothed edge.

    Flowers:  Catkins hold the flowers of both sexes, with male flowers in the upper part and female flowers in the lower portion. These catkins are 10 to 20 cm long and appear in late June to July.

    Fruits:  By autumn the female flowers develop into spiny protective husks called cupules. This prickly outer layer deters squirrels and other seed predators from getting to the nuts within them, before they are shed in October.

    Uses Food

    Castanea sativa  has been cultivated for over two thousand years for its edible starchy nuts. These chestnuts were once a staple food in Europe but are enjoyed merely as a delicacy today. Historically, chestnuts were ground into flour or coarse meal.

    Chestnuts are nutritionally very similar to wheat except for a lack of the protein gluten, a binding agent, so baked goods made with chestnut flour tend to have holes or a crumbly texture. Chestnuts are still an important source of starch in parts of Europe, such as the island of Corsica where they are also used to brew beer.

    Elsewhere in Europe, chestnuts are used in confectionery (most famously, marrons glacés from France), puddings and cakes. They are also used in savoury dishes and in poultry stuffing, especially at Christmas. Chestnuts roasted over a brazier are eaten as a winter street food in European cities.


    The wood of  Castanea sativa  is durable and has been used to make furniture, barrels, fencing and roof beams. However, as it tends to split and warp, it is not usually used in large pieces requiring structural strength.


    The leaves of sweet chestnut are used in herbal remedies for coughs, diarrhoea and rheumatism. The leaves are rich in tannins and possess antibacterial and antifungal properties.

    Research has shown that  Castanea sativa  probably has allelopathic effects on other plant species growing nearby, that is, chemicals in the leaves that are released into the leaf litter of the forest floor inhibit the germination and the growth of other tree species' seedlings nearby.


    Although most sweet chestnut trees are propagated from seed, a few selections with larger seeds are grown in Britain, especially the cultivar 'Marron de Lyon' which has very large nuts. Other ornamental cultivars are also grown, such as 'Albomarginata' which has variegated leaves.

    At Kew, sweet chestnut is propagated from seed or by grafting. The seed quickly loses viability as it dries out. Seedlings are grown by sowing the fresh seeds directly into the Arboretum Nursery field. If sown there in the autumn, they germinate the following spring. The seedlings grow quickly, becoming small trees 35-50 cm high in one season. They are so sturdy that they rarely need staking when planted out. The trees are planted into the Natural Areas in order to be coppiced in the future. It is anticipated that the trees will be ready for the first cut in 15-20 years time. The timber will then be suitable for replacing post and rail fencing in the gardens.

    To create rootstocks for grafting, seed is sown into pots kept in a frost-free glasshouse. An open gritty potting mix is used, and the seeds germinate in about 4-6 weeks.

    Sweet chestnut thrives in Kew’s well-drained sandy soil. As a result the trees tend to fruit well most years. During the spring young plants can be attacked by aphids, and these are controlled using Kew’s integrated pest management system.

    This species at Kew

    The sweet chestnut between the Stable Yard and the Lake is thought to be one of the oldest trees in the Gardens, dating back to the early 18th century, possibly late 17th. Sweet chestnuts were a favourite tree at the time and many were planted by the famous garden designer Charles Bridgeman, who is also credited with starting the English Landscape Movement.

    There is evidence to suggest that this tree is a remnant of woodland plantings along the edge of the Kew estate and Love Lane, which divided the Kew and Richmond estates. There is another specimen which demonstrates clearly the spiralling effect on the trunk of pollarding at various stages of its life.

    Iraq, Turkey
    Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria. Not considered to be threatened.

    None known.

    Food and drink, timber, medicine.



    Found In:

    Albania, East Aegean Is., Greece, Hungary, Iran, Lebanon-Syria, Transcaucasus, Turkey, Turkey-in-Europe, Yugoslavia

    Introduced Into:

    Algeria, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Is., Corse, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Haiti, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Juan Fernández Is., Kriti, Krym, Madeira, Morocco, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sardegna, Sicilia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Ukraine

    Common Names

    Sweet chestnut

    Castanea sativa Mill. appears in other Kew resources:

    First published in Gard. Dict. ed. 8: n.º 1 (1768)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2012) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 4: 1-431. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [2] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [3] Chilton, L. (2010) Plant list for Lesvos , slightly revised 1998-2009: 1-36. Marengo, Hunstanton, England
    • [4] (2004) Journal de Botanique Société de Botanique de France 24: 67-78
    • [7] Govaerts, R. (1999) World Checklist of Seed Plants 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. MIM, Deurne
    • [8] Govaerts, R. & Frodin, D.G. (1998) World Checklist and Bibliography of Fagales . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


    • [5] Williamson, E. M. (2003).  Potter's Herbal Cyclopaedia. C.W. Daniel, Saffron Walden.

    • [6] Basilea, A., Sorboa, U. S., Giordanoa, S., Ricciardib, L. Ferraraa, S., Montesanoc, D., Castaldo Cobianchia, R., Vuottob, M. L. & Ferrarac, L. (2000). Antibacterial and allelopathic activity of extract from  Castanea sativa leaves.  Fitoterapia 71 Supplement 1: S110-S116.

      Davidson, A. (2006).  The Oxford Companion to Food. 2nd Ed. Oxford University Press, Oxford.1278


    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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