Species Profile

American Chestnut

Scientific Name: Castanea dentata
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
Range: Ontario
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2004
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of American Chestnut

American Chestnut Photo 1



The American chestnut, a tall tree about 30 m in height, has a dark brown bark which cracks with age. The leaves measure 15 to 30 cm in length and 5 to 10 cm in width; each leaf has a long point and jagged sides. At maturity, the leaves become green and smooth-edged. The unisexual flowers grow on a catkin. The brown nuts are flat and enclosed in a pointed shell 5 to 8 cm in diameter.


Distribution and Population

The American chestnut have been found at approximately 140 sites in Canada. The number of trees at these sites varies from one to several hundred. Trees with a diameter of at least 10 cm occur at only 49 sites. Unfortunately, the larger populations are composed mainly of trees affected by chestnut blight and consist mostly of stump sprouts. In Canada, the distribution of this tree is limited to southern Ontario.



In Canada, the American chestnuts are members of deciduous forest communities; this tree prefers arid forests with acid and sandy soils. The American chestnut is found almost exclusively in the United States, and is only found in Ontario because of the moderating influence of the Great Lakes.



This species is monoecious, possessing both pistillate and staminate flowers. Insects pollinate the flowers; rodents, such as squirrels, inadvertently scatter the seeds while burying the nuts.



The main cause of death for the American chestnut is a blight fungus which manifests as cankers. The cankers enlarge until they surround the trunk of the tree, preventing vascular circulation between the roots and the branches, which causes the crown of the tree to die. Logging of these trees is another limiting factor for the species.



Federal Protection

The American Chestnut is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Most of the American chestnuts are on land belonging to public agencies such as conservation authorities, counties and districts, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Several sites are protected through forestry management agreements which forbid the cutting of these trees.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) in Canada
Status First posting on SAR registry


Recovery Team

American Chestnut Recovery Team

  • John Ambrose - Chair/Contact - Private consultant
    Phone: 519-821-8653  Send Email
  • Greg Boland - Chair/Contact - University or college
    Phone: 519-824-4120  Send Email



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

10 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the American Chestnut Castanea dentata in Canada (2005)

    American chestnut is a member of the beech family. It is the only species of chestnut native to Canada. It has elongate leaves tapered at both ends and large teeth along the margins. Flowers are arranged in catkins with numerous tiny male flowers and a cluster of several female flowers at the base of some of the catkins. When cross-pollinated with another chestnut tree by an insect pollinator, the female flowers develop into spiny bur-like fruits enclosing one to several chestnuts. This species once was a dominant tree in many areas of the eastern deciduous forests of North America, but has been greatly reduced by the introduction of the chestnut blight disease a century ago.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - American chestnut (2005)

    Designated Threatened in April 1987. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in November 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - American Chestnut (2005)

    Once a dominant tree in well drained forests of the Eastern Deciduous Forest, this species was devastated by chestnut blight in the first part of the 20th century. The species is still present throughout most of its former range, but as a few scattered individuals that have sprouted from root crowns. Most of these succumb to the blight before reaching a substantial size and fewer than 150 are large enough to produce seed. The species requires cross-pollination and seed set is reduced because mature individuals are widely scattered. Threats to the species include the continuous presence of the blight, aging and attrition of the root crowns, land clearing in some remaining sites, and hybridization with other species.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) in Canada (2016)

    The Minister of the Environment is the competent minister for the recovery of the American Chestnut and has prepared this strategy, as per section 37 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). In the spirit of cooperation of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Government of Ontario has given permission to the Government of Canada to adopt the Recovery Strategy for the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) in Ontario under section 44 of SARA. Environment Canada has included an addition which completes the SARA requirements for this recovery strategy. The American Chestnut Ontario Government Response Statement has also been included as part of the adoption to clarify the priorities for implementation. A Government Response Statement is the Ontario Government’s policy response to the recovery strategy that summarizes the prioritized actions that the government intends to take.


COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2005 (2005)

    2005 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: November 2005 (2005)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 31, 2017