Identifying American Chestnut Trees

This page is designed to help you distinguish among several species of the chestnut family (Castanea) commonly seen in North America. Also included are three non-chestnut species that are often confused with chestnut. Click on the names below to see examples and characteristics of the common species of chestnut or chestnut look-alikes.

Overview of the Five Species

A good place to start is to compare American and Chinese chestnuts. Over 80% of the leaves that are sent to us each year for identification are either from Chinese chestnuts or Chinese/American hybrids, because these trees are resistant to the chestnut blight. Also compare true American chestnut with three trees often confused with chestnut: chestnut oak, beech, and horse chestnut.

How to Have Your Chestnut Tree Identified

Chestnut tree identification is a free service that TACF provides to the public. A good leaf and twig sample is the best way to identify your tree, as photos alone can be misleading and not allow for a definitive identification.

Sample Collection

  • If you think you have an American chestnut tree, send us a freshly-cut 6-12 inch twig with mature leaves attached. Leaves should be from sunny exposure, if possible.
  • Spring or Summer is the best time to collect samples for identification purposes. Samples submitted after November are discouraged because dry leaves are more difficult to identify correctly.
  • Press leaves between pieces of cardboard to flatten and prevent curling or crushing as they dry. Crushed or bent leaves are much harder to analyze. See How to Make A Plant Press
  • To prevent mold and material deterioration, do not put the sample into a plastic bag.
  • Please do not send burs. If you want to send nuts to assist with the sample identification process, remove the nuts from the bur first.

Sample Submission

  • Print and fill-out the Tree Locator Form so that we can keep track of your sample and send you results. This form is vital for our inventory of wild trees, so please include latitude and longitude as well as good contact details. A GPS app called TreeSnap will automatically determine this for you.
  • Please do not send or email photos without mailing in a leaf sample as well. Photos can assist with the identification process, but precise identification cannot be made using photos alone.
  • You will get your results via email. Results can take up to 12 weeks, sometimes longer, especially during Fall when our regional science coordinators are focused on harvest season. Please be sure to check the spam folder in your email account for results.