How to tell the Difference Between American and Chinese Chestnuts

by John Peterson and Jeff Kirwan, Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation

American chestnut

(Castanea dentata)

Chinese chestnut

(Castanea mollissima)

Leaves:

  • American leaves are more narrow.
  • American has longer, more arching teeth.
  • Chinese has fine hair on the lower surface and on the petiole.

Fruit:

  • Both are contained in burs.
  • American is 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter.
  • Chinese is 1 to 1 1/4 inches in diameter.

Twig:

  • American chestnut-brown in color and hairless.
  • Chinese is gray-brown in color and is covered with fine fuzz, especially near the tip.

Bark:

  • Smooth and chestnut-brown in color when young, later shallowly fissured into flat ridges.
  • Chinese is gray-brown to brown, rapidly becoming furrowed, but without distinguishable patterns.

Form:

  • American tends to be more upright.
  • Chinese tends to be more spreading.

Of course, a hybrid between American and Chinese chestnuts DOES exist. According to Lucille Griffin with the American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation, "Hybrid chestnuts from American mother trees, strongly resemble American chestnuts in every way and can be distinguished only by microscopic examination of leaf hairs."

 

For more information visit the Dendrology at Virginia Tech Fact Sheets:

American chestnut (Castanea dentata)

Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima)