Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)
Long, yellow catkins of mostly male flowers, with female flowers at the base. Sweet chestnut is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers are found on the same tree.
After pollination by insects, female flowers develop into shiny, red-brown fruits wrapped in a green, spiky case. The trees begin to bear fruit when they are around 25 years old.
WHERE TO FIND
Sweet chestnut is native to southern Europe, western Asia and north Africa. It is thought to have been introduced to the British Isles by the Romans and today can be found commonly throughout the UK in woods and copses, especially in parts of southern England where it is still managed to form large areas of coppice.
VALUE TO WILDLIFE
The flowers provide an important source of nectar and pollen for bees and other insects, while red squirrels eat the nuts. A large number of micro-moths feed on the leaves and nuts.
Sweet chestnut timber is similar to oak but is more lightweight and easier to work. It has a straight grain when young, but this spirals in older trees. It can be used for carpentry, joinery and furniture. In southeast England, sweet chestnut is coppiced to produce poles.
Unlike the nuts of the horse chestnut, those of the sweet chestnut are edible to humans and can be roasted and used in a variety of recipes, including stuffing for poultry, cake fillings, nut roasts and much more. The Romans ground sweet chestnuts into a flour or coarse meal.
Sweet chestnuts are a rich source of vitamins C (the only nut that is) and B, and minerals including magnesium, potassium and iron. Their high level of starch is similar to that of wheat and twice as high as the potato.