Q. Can you help determine if I have an edible chestnut tree?

I have a chestnut tree on my property which produces spiny hulls with round, smooth nuts inside. The research I have done indicates spiny hulls produce edible nuts, but nuts without a tail or point on one end are poisonous. According to the research, one can also assume the chestnuts are poisonous if animals avoid them. The squirrels and chipmunks are constantly harvesting our chestnuts. Not sure how to determine accurate information about this tree.


You are most likely trying to determine whether your tree is a horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) versus a sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). American chestnut (Castanea dentatawas once common in southern New York State but has been almost eradicated by chestnut blight.

Ignore what the animals around you are doing.The chemical tolerance of squirrels and chipmunks is not an effective determinant of toxicity to humans. And while the nut of a horse chestnut tends to be smoother than the more pointed sweet chestnut, individual fruits can vary, so examine several before making a determination. If you are in any doubt, don't eat the nuts.

It is much more likely that you have a horse chestnut on your property as they are more common in yards and sweet chestnuts more common in woodland. Here is how to confirm that is the case. 

A horse chestnut has a 5 to 7 lobed palmate leaf with pointed, serrated leaflets (pictured below). Deer and other mammals do eat the fruit but humans should not.
horse chestnut leaf
A sweet chestnut has a single serrated and pointed leaf with prominent veins (pictured below). The nuts are found in clusters and are smaller than a horse chestnut. Bark on an older tree will have spiraling fissures.
sweet chestnut leaf

-Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service

  • Last Updated Jul 20, 2018
  • Views 827
  • Answered By Anita Finkle

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