The American Chestnut was once the most common tree in the eastern woods. Chestnut is in the beech family and is related to the oaks that replaced it as the dominant forest tree. This species was all but wiped out during the twentieth century by a fungal blight. There have been many efforts to create a resistant American chestnut, including hybridizing American chestnut with Chinese chestnut.
In previous centuries, this tree commonly grew up to 100 feet in height, and the nuts were a staple in the diet of many wildlife species. It was also an important timber tree. Mature American chestnuts are now extremely rare and exist only in isolated locations. Stump sprouts persist, however, and in a few places in Newton occasionally become large enough to flower. Sprouts have glossy brown twigs with rounded tan buds. Leaves are oblong, pointed at both ends, as much as eight inches long with coarse curved teeth pointing toward the tip. The leaves are often described as “canoe shaped.” The large spikes of creamy white flowers are quite showy, usually blooming in early July. Prickly burrs develop on female flowers by early fall. If pollinated, the burrs will contain small brown nuts that could eventually grow into new trees.