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Perhaps during
nomadic life, the primary food consumed by man, the chestnut dates to primitive
times. Chestnuts (Castanea) belongs
to family Fagaceae, with natural habitat in deciduous forests of eastern North
America, Europe, and East Asia. There are seven species in genus Castanea but in this experiment, we have
studied three species i.e. American chestnut (Castanea dentata), Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima Bl.) and
Japanese chestnut (Castanea crenata
Sieb. & Zucc.) including their hybrids. American chestnut is native to
North America and susceptible to chestnut blight, where Chinese and Japanese
chestnut are native to east Asia and resistant to chestnut blight. All species
are diploid (2n = 2X = 24) and hybridize freely. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata Marsh. Brokh) was ruling
eastern deciduous forest for 2000 year prior to chestnut blight (caused by Cryphonectria parasitica Murrill Barr)
inwards the North America around first decade of the 20th century.

Back in time in
North America everyone was using American chestnut trees (C. dentata) for woods, poles, fencing, rot-resistant timber, a
source of tannins, fuel and building materials. Nuts as roasting, thanksgiving
turkey with chestnut stuffing. Present scenario is like despite few trees nearby
its historical range which have escaped the blight, some reestablished chestnut
groves by American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), exists primarily as shrubs,
sprouting from the stumps of blight-topped trees.

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Growth rate varies
in chestnut species from moderate growth of Chinese chestnut to rapid growth of
American and European Chestnut. According to species, mature tree heights also
fluctuate from comparatively very small species of chinkapins to earlier of
American forest gigantic C. dentata of
around 200 ft. Where, Japanese chestnut (C.
crenata), Chinese chestnut (C.
mollissima) and European chestnut (C. sativa) with average height of 33 ft.,
50 ft. and 100 ft. respectively lies in between of that extreme difference (council, 2000). The Chinese and
Japanese chestnuts are both often multilayered and wide-spreading, whereas
European and especially American species incline to grow very erect
comparatively, with little tapered, well established and massive columnar
trunks with wide, rounded and dense canopy head at maturity. Its bark is smooth
when young of a vinous maroon or red-brown color for the American chestnut,
grey for the European chestnut (Detwiler, 1915). With age, American species’ bark
becomes grey and darker, thick and deeply furrowed; the furrows run
longitudinally, and tend to twist around the trunk as the tree ages like one of
a large cable with twisted strands (Grieve M. M., 1900). The leaves are
simple with acuminate leaf apex, obtuse leaf base, 12–25 cm long and 5–11 cm
wide, with serrate margin shape and pointed and broadly spaced teeth, with
rounded to angular type sinus shape.

After vegetation
flowering stage appear in late spring or early summer until july. They are
arranged in long catkins of two kinds, with both kinds being borne on every
tree (Minnesota, 2008). Some catkins are made of only male
flowers, which mature first. Each flower has eight stamens, or 10 to 12 for C. mollissima (Liao, 1976). The ripe pollen
carries a heavy, sweet odor that some people find too sweet or unpleasant (Minnesota, 2008). Other catkins have
these pollen-bearing flowers, but also carry near the twig from which these
spring, small clusters of female or fruit-producing flowers. Two or three
flowers together form a four-lobed prickly calybium, which ultimately grows
completely together to make the brown hull, or husk, covering the fruits (Grieve M. M.,
Chestnut flowers are self-incompatible, and they freely hybridize within
Castanea species.

The fruit is
contained in a spiny (very sharp) cupule 5–11 cm in diameter, also called
“bur” or “burr” (VirginiaTech, 2008). The burrs are often
paired or clustered on the branch and contain one to seven nuts according to
the distinct species, varieties, and cultivars (Rushforth & Collins, 1999) (Bean &
Murray, 1976).
Around the time the fruits reach maturity, the burrs turn yellow-brown and
split open in two or four sections. They can remain on the tree longer than
they hold the fruit, but more often achieve complete opening and release the
fruits only after having fallen on the ground; opening is partly due to soil
humidity (Mencarelli, Postharvest Handling
and Storage of Chestnuts, 2001). The chestnut fruit
has a pointed end with a small tuft at its tip (called “flame” in
Italian) (Mencarelli, Postharvest Handling
and Storage of Chestnuts, 2001), and at the other
end, a hilum – a pale brown attachment scar. In many varieties, the fruit is
flattened on one or two sides. It has two skins. The first one is a hard,
shiny, brown outer hull or husk, called the pericarps, the industry calls this
the “peel”. Underneath the pericarps is another, thinner skin, called
the pellicle or episperm (McLaren, 1999). The pellicle
closely adheres to the seed itself, following the grooves usually present at
the surface of the fruit. These grooves are of variable sizes and depths
according to the species and variety. Inside the fruit there is fleshy and
creamy two cotyledons but appears as one. Some varieties have only on large
fruit per burr called as “marron” (Mencarelli, Postharvest Handling and Storage of Chestnuts., 2001). Fruit has no
dormancy and can germinate right away after falling on ground, they can’t even
store for long since they lose viability immediately so, they need to plant

Among all chestnut
varieties European chestnuts are sweet in taste, easily removable skin and
substantial size. American chestnuts are usually very small (around 5 g), but
sweet-tasting with easy-to-remove pellicles. Some Japanese varieties have very
large nuts (around 40 g), with typically difficult-to-remove pellicles. Chinese
chestnut pellicles are usually easy to remove, and their sizes vary greatly
according to the varieties, although usually smaller than the Japanese chestnut (council,

Evidence of
chestnut cultivation by man is found since around 2000 BC. Alexander the Great
and the Romans planted chestnut trees across Europe while on their various
campaigns. A Greek army said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in
401–399 BC “thanks to their stores of chestnuts” (Filippone). Ancient Greeks,
such as Dioscorides and Galen, wrote of chestnuts to comment on their medicinal
properties and of the flatulence induced by eating too much of it to the early
Christians, chestnuts symbolized chastity. In 1879 it was said that it almost
exclusively fed whole populations of Italy for half the year, as “a
temporary but complete substitution for cereals” (Play, 1879).

studies indicated that C. dentata was
present in the southern Appalachian region 15000 year ago, and in the northern
Appalachian region 5000 year ago and arrived in Connecticut 2000 year ago
(Delcourt et al., 1980; Davis, 1981).
Prior to blight, the native range of the American chestnut extended from
southern Maine southward to Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi and westward to
southern Michigan, Indiana, and Tennessee. Every fourth tree in the central
Appalachian forest was a chestnut (Saucier, 1973). This large, fast-growing
tree played a significant role in forest ecosystems, providing food and habitat
for a variety of wildlife. The reign of the American chestnut ended abruptly in
the early 1900’s when a blight, caused by the fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, was introduced to North America from Asia
via infected chestnut nursery stock (Griffin, 2000). The blight was first observed
in the Bronx Zoological Park in New York in 1904 (Roane, 1986) and within 50
years the American chestnut was nearly eliminated from the forest (Brewer,
1995). Only a few clumps of trees remained in Michigan, Wisconsin, California
and the Pacific Northwest (Filippone). American chestnut
can breed with Asiatic species to have blight resistance traits. Efforts
started in the 1930s are still ongoing to repopulate the country with these
trees in the United States. In the 1970s, geneticist Charles Burnham began
back-breeding Asian chestnut into American chestnut populations to confer
blight resistance with the minimum difference in genes (Cummer, 2003). In the 1950s, the Dunstan chestnut was
developed in Greensboro, N.C., and constitutes most blight-free chestnuts
produced in the United States annually.

Chestnuts depart
from the norm for culinary nuts in that they have very little protein or fat,
their calories coming chiefly from carbohydrates. Fresh chestnut fruits have
about 180 kcal per 100 grams of edible parts, which is much lower than walnuts,
almonds, other nuts and dried fruit (about 600 kcal/100 g). Chestnuts contain
very little fat, mostly unsaturated, and no gluten (council, 2000). Their carbohydrate content compares
with that of wheat and rice; chestnuts have twice as much starch as the potato
on an as-is basis (Filippone). In addition,
chestnuts contain about 8% of various sugars, mainly sucrose, glucose,
fructose, and, in a lesser amount, stachyose and raffinose, which are fermented
in the lower gut, producing gas (Mencarelli, Postharvest Handling and Storage of Chestnuts., 2001). In some areas,
sweet chestnut trees are called “the bread tree”. When chestnuts are
just starting to ripen, the fruit is mostly starch and is very firm under
finger pressure from the high-water content. As the chestnuts ripen, the starch
is slowly converted into sugars, and moisture content also starts decreasing.
Upon pressing the chestnut, a slight ‘give’ can be felt; the hull is not so
tense, and space occurs between it and the flesh of the fruit. They are the
only “nuts” that contain vitamin C, with about 40 mg per 100 g of raw
product, which is about 65% of the U.S. recommended daily intake. The amount of
vitamin C decreases by about 40% after heating. Fresh chestnuts contain about
52% water by weight, which evaporates relatively quickly during storage; they
can lose as much as 1% of weight in one day at 68 °F and 70% relative humidity (Mencarelli, Postharvest Handling and Storage of
Chestnuts., 2001).
Tannin is contained in the bark as well as in the wood, leaves, and seed husks.
The husks contain 10–13% tannin (Rottsieper., 1946).

About 2,500
chestnut trees are growing on 60 acres near West Salem, Wisconsin, which is the
world’s largest remaining stand of American chestnut.

The nut’s demand
of chestnut surpasses supply in the country. The United States imported 4,056
metric tons of European in-shell chestnuts worth $10 million in 2007 (Geisler,
2008). The U.S. chestnut industry is in its infancy, producing less than 1% of
total world production. Since the mid-20th century, most of the US imports are
from Southern Italy, with the large, meaty, and richly flavored Sicilian
chestnuts being considered among the best quality for bulk sale and supermarket
retail. Some imports come from Portugal and France. The next two largest
sources of imports are China and South Korea (Geisler, 2008).

A study of the sector in 2005 found
that US producers are mainly part-timers diversifying an existing agricultural
business, or hobbyists (University of Missouri, 2004). Another recent study
indicates that investment in a new plantation takes 13 years to break even, at
least within the current Australian market (McLaren, 1999). Starting a
small-scale operation requires a relatively low initial investment; this is a
factor in the small size of the present production operations, with half of
them being within 3 to 10 acres. Another predetermining factor in the small
productivity of the sector is that most orchards have been created less than 10
years ago, so have young trees which are as now barely entering commercial
production. Assuming a 22 lbs. yield for a 10-year-old tree is a reliable
conservative estimate, though some exceptional specimens of that age have
yielded 220 lbs. So, most producers earn less than $5,000 per year, with a
third of the total not having sold anything so far (University of Missouri,
2004). As of 2008, the price for chestnuts sold fresh in the shell ranges from
$1.50 per pound wholesale to about $5 per pound retail, depending mainly on the
size (University of Missouri, 2004).

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