sweet chestnut defined in 1944 yearsweet chestnut - Sweet Chestnut;
sweet chestnut - G. Edelkastanie; F. Châtaignier, Marronier; W. Castanwydden. Name derived from the Latin. Also known as Spanish Chestnut.
The bole of the Sweet Chestnut is usually massive, rigid, and erect, with stout branches breaking up fanwise into long twigs. These twigs are stout, warm brown in colour, and rather angular in outline, haying distinctive ribs running out to their oval winter buds, which are borne alternately on brackets. The bark of the trunk is ridged and furrowed in a regular pattern, and a peculiar feature is the frequent twisting of this bark pattern from the vertical to the spiral.
The leaves appear late in April, and are simple, entire, and shaped like a spear-head, with a series of saw-tooth indentations, each ending in a tiny spike, down either side. Their upper surface is rich green in colour, and its shiny surface reflects the sun and gives the tree a handsome appearance when in full leaf. The large size of the leaves, about 6 inches long, serves to distinguish the species. The leaves turn to a bright brown shade before falling late in October.
The chestnut is almost the last of our trees to flower, its blossom seldom appearing before August. Male and female catkins are borne on the same tree, the former being about 8 inches long, slender, pale yellow, and conspicuous in the mass. The male flowers are grouped in clusters, with gaps between them. They are very simple, consisting of a 6-lobed scale bearing about 10 prominent stamens.
The female catkins are inconspicuous groups of 3 simple flowers, enveloped in a hairy cupule, borne near the base of the male catkins. After fertilisation, each flower develops one triangular nutlet, the 3 nutlets being enclosed by the basal cupule of 4 green bracts, which develops a tangled mass of long, hard, green, sharp-tipped opines on its outer surface. This cupule opens late in October to release the three chestnuts which are bright brown in colour, half an inch long, angular on two faces and rounded on the third.
Pollination is effected partly by wind, partly by insects, and the seed is distributed by animals and birds. The seed crop of the chestnut is highly variable in Britain, as a short summer does not give the seed time to ripen, and in some years the bulk of it is infertile. North of the Midlands, fertile and edible seed is seldom obtained.
Although the chestnut reproduces itself naturally in the south of England, it is well established that it has been artificially introduced into Britain, most probably by the Romans, who valued the edible seeds. It is a native of Italy and southern Europe; allied species occur in Japan and the eastern states of North America.
Chestnuts for seed are collected from beneath the trees in November, only sound well-filled nuts being chosen. They are liable to heat up or go mouldy in storage, so unless they can be sown at once, they should be put in pits with enough moist sand to keep them apart, or else laid out on trays so that there is a free circulation of air around each nut. About 100 nuts go to the pound.
The seed germinates in the spring after felling; the cotyledons remain below ground, and the leaves and shoots resemble those of the full-grown tree. Growth is rapid, and seedlings about 5 inches high may be set out in the forest after one year's growth. Two- year seedlings are better, but it is seldom necessary to use transplants. If a coppice crop is aimed at, the plants should be set a few feet apart in groups of 2 or 3, allowing about 15 feet between groups to provide one good stool at each point, which is cut back after 2 or 3 years' growth.
Chestnut requires a good well-drained soil in a warm locality, and does not thrive on chalk or acid peaty soils. Good drainage is essential. It stands moderate exposure and seldom requires nursing; as it comes into leaf late, it seldom suffers from frost. It stands moderate shade, especially when young, but can only make good growth in full sunlight. Chestnut has few natural enemies, but may suffer from " Ink Disease which causes defoliation. This complaint is spasmodic in occurrence, and is seldom severe except on unfavourable sites.
A valuable feature of the chestnut is its utility in small sizes, chiefly for fencing. It coppices very freely, and is a profitable coppice crop in localities where cleft fencing is made; 14 years is a usual coppice rotation.
The growth of maiden trees is fairly rapid, and on good sites a height of 110 feet may be reached. Chestnut persists to a great age and may attain an immense girth, but large trees are seldom sound. The wood of mature trees is more or less " shaken "; that is, it contains deep cracks usually in the line of the annual rings (ring shakes), or radially (star shakes). These cracks seldom extend far up the tree, but they cause a fair amount of loss on conversion, and diminish the value of the timber. Girths up to 20 feet occur.
The timber is light brown in colour, and remarkable for narrowness of the lighter-coloured sapwood layer. It resembles oak, but may always be distinguished by the absence of broad medullary rays. It has great natural durability out of doors, and is therefore in demand for fence-stakes, poles and cleft fencing. In larger sizes it is mainly used as a substitute for oak, being satisfactory where appearance is the chief consideration, as in the making of coffins. It has no outstanding mechanical properties, but its durability makes it useful for rough constructional work exposed to weather or water. A poor firewood, it can be made to yield satisfactory charcoal.
Except in certain districts where systematic management of coppices is practised, the chestnut has received little attention in Britain. Pure plantations are rare. The nut crop is uncertain and of no economic importance here. The intrinsic value of the timber is not great and, as it requires a good soil, it is unlikely to be planted on any large scale as a High Forest tree. Chestnut coppice is more valuable, and large areas can be profitably maintained in suitable localities, wherever there is a continued demand for fencing material or hop poles.
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