The chestnut tree has a long and storied history, and records of its cultivation and use have existed for thousands of years. Widespread thousands of years ago, chestnuts were common in ancient Greece, Europe and Asia, as well as in North America. Valued for its fruit, or nut, the chestnut has many different varieties which are classified by region.
The chestnut tree is a member of the Fagaceae family, the same family as the oak and the beech tree. The chestnut belongs to the genus Castanea, and is divided into four main types: European, Chinese, Japanese and American.
Castanea sativa, or "sweet chestnut," is the only European species of chestnut. The European chestnut is tall and has a massive trunk, and the foliage changes to yellow in the autumn.
There are many different Chinese species of chestnut, including Castanea mollisima, davidii, henryl and seguinii. The Chinese varieties of chestnut tend to be wide and not as tall as European and American versions.
Castanea crenata is the Japanese chestnut tree. The Japanese chestnut is also wider and more spreading than the taller and more massive American and European versions.
American chestnuts are divided according to eastern and southern states. In the east, chestnut varieties include Castanea dentata and pumila; in the south, the varieties are alnifolia, ashei, floridana and paupispina. The American chestnut can be huge, with a large single trunk distinguished by the growth of long, ropy strands on the gray bark.