The sweet or Spanish chestnut is not native to Britain but was probably first
transported from the Mediterranean and Asia Minor by the Romans. Here it does
best on the right lighter soils in southern England.
The Sweet Chestnut will grow into a large, tall tree with a deeply grooved or fissured bark, sometimes in a spiral.
The distinctive leaves are tough and large (20cm long), with prominent veins and serrated edges.
Sweet chestnut flowers after practically all other trees, as late as the end of June and early July.
They are also odd as both male and females flowers are on the same stalk and pollination is by insects, not the wind.
Each male catkin resembles a hairy golden caterpillar while the female ones are surrounded by green bracts. After fertilisation, these develop into the spiky husks harbouring the ripening nuts.
Trees start to bear seeds when 30-40 years old. The chestnuts ripen rapidly in their protective capsules and are ready to drop by September. However, only in exceptional summers do the nuts develop to full size in Britain. They are a valuable by-product in the rural economy in Spain and Italy.
It grows fast when young and coppices very well. Especially in Kent and Sussex, large areas are still actively coppiced on a 12 to 16 year rotation. The stems are cut back to the base or stool, several new shoots grow up and develop into straight poles for posts, fuel and cleft paling fences. In the recent past, the main market for chestnut coppice was for hop poles.
When allowed to grow to maturity, this tree yields a good quality timber resembling oak, but lighter, weaker and more easily worked.