Distinguishing American from Chinese and European chestnut by leaves and twigs

Sometimes, individuals who come across a tall chestnut tree in a forest setting, assume it must be an American chestnut.  This is not always the case.  In forest settings, Chinese chestnut, like its American cousin, also can grown straight and tall.  Leaf shape, leaf hairs and twig color are good characteristics to distinguish American from Chinese chestnut.  American chestnut leaves are generally long and slender with a “V” at the leaf base.  Chinese chestnuts have a wider leaf and they are often shiny.  Chinese chestnut leaves have a “U” shape at the leaf base.  Most striking are the hairs on the under-surface of Chinese chestnut leaves.  American chestnut leaves have no hairs.  Chinese twigs, generally brown in color, also have hairs.  American twigs, generally exhibit a reddish color, and like the leaves, the twigs have no hairs.  Buds are another characteristic–American buds are pointed compared to rounded Chinese buds.

In some areas of the eastern U.S., European chestnut trees can be found.  In comparison, European twigs are much stouter than either American or Chinese chestnut.  Buds on a European are often large and green in early spring, turning darker by mid-summer.  Notice the leaf margin on  European, as it has more of a consistent wave-like pattern.

The pictures below, as with any biological specimens, are generalizations.

American chestnut leaf with a “V” at the leaf base.American chestnut twig (reddish with pointed buds).Chinese chestnut leaf (broad and shiny with hairs on the under-surface) exhibiting a “U” shape at the leaf base.Chinese chestnut twig (often brown with hairs).European chestnut leaf (notice wavy pattern of teeth).European chestnut twig is often more stout, when compared to American and Chinese chestnut. Buds are green in the spring, turning dark in summer.