Common Chestnut Cultivars Grown in Michigan and Why They Are Suggested
The following chestnut cultivars have been planted in various locations in Michigan and have grown and produced yields of nuts. We emphasize these cultivars based on the fact that the cultivars grow and yield nuts in our experimental plots. However, there may be hundreds of cultivars that might do that. We suggest these cultivars because of the single beneficial trait or characteristic that is listed for each cultivar. As you read about the cultivars, below, look for the bold and underlined statement that provides the single (or two) most important characteristic a cultivar will provide you. If that is not important to you, then you may not want to plant that cultivar. For example, if I was growing chestnut trees in northern Michigan, around the 45th parallel, I would want to place ‘Precoce Migoule’ and ‘Early Michigan’ into my orchard. I would still want ‘Colossal’, the highest yielding cultivar, but I could use both ‘Precoce Migoule’ and ‘Early Michigan’ to pollinize the ‘Colossal’ trees. ‘Precoce Migoule’ and ‘Early Michigan’ could pollinze each other and they would drop their nuts before ‘Colossal’ and usually before the earliest autumn frost. If I was very concerned with chestnut blight disease, I would stay away from ‘Colossal’, ‘Bouche de Betizac’ and ‘Precoce Migoule’ since these are blight susceptible and plant high yielding Chinese chestnut cultivars such as ‘Peach’ or ‘Benton Harbor’.
‘Colossal’ is a hybrid between Castanea sativa (European chestnut) and Castanea crenata (Japanese chestnut). It is similar to a series of cultivars called French hybrids since these are the types of hybrids grown in France and Spain. ‘Colossal’ is not from France or Spain but from the foothills of the High Sierra in California where it was bred more than a hundred years ago. ‘Colossal’ was introduced to Michigan in the 1990’s as a seedling tree (ungrafted) and as a cultivar. The most beneficial characteristics of ‘Colossal’ are that it produces excellent yields and a large nut. It remains a standard to be met by other cultivars in terms of yield and nut size for growers in Michigan (hence the constant comparisons to ‘Colossal’). The tree grows very rapidly and the young grafted tree goes into production within three years after planting. Sometimes production occurs in the second year. No chestnut tree in Michigan has matched it yield potential. Even though this tree has not been grown much in Europe, the nut suffices in North America as a “European type nut” and satisfies the European chestnut consumer. The tree is pollen sterile. Overall, a very vigorous tree, well adapted to Michigan weather conditions, and a heavy nut producer. In some orchards it has a tendency to produce a percentage of low quality nuts. This can occur to more than 30 percent of the nuts harvested. However, in other orchards, all nuts are nearly perfect. This will require further research. So far, the causes of these nut/kernel problems remain unknown. Due to these problems and the fact that the tree is chestnut blight susceptible, we suggest that growers start replacing ‘Colossal’ chestnuts and begin planting a diversity of cultivars including many of those listed below.
Additional comments: a cultivar was sold with ‘Colossal’ called ‘Nevada’ that was suggested by Fowler Nursery to be the ‘Colossal’ pollinizer. This cultivar did not survive Michigan winters and ‘Nevada’ should not be planted in Michigan. ‘Nevada’ appears to grow well in other states. ‘Nevada’ was not only winter sensitive, it produced a very poor quality chestnut in Michigan, usually several poorly formed chestnuts within a bur. When planting ‘Colossal’ and other pollen sterile cultivars, make sure you consider the pollen parents needed in the orchard. It appears that other cultivars, including Chinese cultivars can pollinate ‘Colossal’. In southern Michigan, ‘Colossal’ appears to be pollinated around July 6th.
‘Bouche de Betizac'
‘Bouche de Betizac’ is a French hybrid between Castanea sativa (European chestnut) and Castanea crenata (Japanese chestnut). It is a pollen sterile, vigorous tree with upright growth. This cultivar produces large crops of big nuts that taste good and are easy to peel. ‘Bouche De Betizac’ is well adapted for growth in Michigan and has survived winters and produced crops in the southern and northern Lower Peninsula. It is stated to be resistant to Phytophthora root rot, but since it rarely grows on its own roots, this is a moot point. The single most beneficial characteristic of ‘Bouche de Betizac’ is that it is reported to be the only commercial cultivar resistant to the Asian gall wasp, a pest not yet found in Michigan but is currently threatening to invade the state from Ohio. There is a claim that it has resistance to chestnut blight, but that should be taken with skepticism. It is resistant to leaf anthracnose, but we have not found this disease in Michigan. It ripens in mid-October, just after ‘Colossal’. It should be considered a replacement for ‘Colossal’ and it can be grafted directly onto ‘Colossal’, or ‘Colossal’ sucker sprouts (rootstock). We have been pleased with its performance in Michigan, however we have had a tough time finding young, grafted trees that survive the first year after transplanting. This has more to say about the rootstock used than the scion wood. When grafted directly onto mature trees, it has performed extremely well.
Nut ‘Bouche de Betizac’
‘Precoce Migoule’ is a French hybrid between Castanea sativa (European chestnut) and Castanea crenata (Japanese chestnut). It is a vigorous tree with upright growth and has been shown to be well adapted to the Michigan climate. The two most beneficial characteristics of ‘Precoce Migoule’ are that it produces copious, early pollen that is synchronized with ‘Colossal’ and the nuts mature at least two weeks earlier than ‘Colossal’ making it a candidate for northern areas where early frosts damage nuts before harvest. In some years, we have observed an over production of flowers, followed by heavy nut set resulting in a reduction of nut size. Nuts produced in these conditions can have a low quality kernel. This needs further research.
‘J160’ aka ‘Labor Day’
‘Michigan Early’ is a tree that was selected from the orchard of the late Norman Higgins in Perry, Michigan (position in orchard was row J and tree 160). The mother tree is about 50-years-old and it has multiple trunks with upright growth. It is reported to be Korean or have some Korean genetics (probably C. crenata). It is a prolific pollen producer and sheds pollen early and for three weeks, which should help pollinate the early flowering European/Japanese cultivars like ‘Colossal’. It is a good nut producer. The single most beneficial characteristic of ‘Michigan Early’ is that it is ready to produce mature nuts in the second and third weeks of September. If this is important to you, then you should plant this tree. It also has early pollen production, which should be good for pollinizing ‘Colossal’ in the orchard. Early harvesting is crucial in areas of northern Michigan where early frosts can damage nuts still attached to trees. For those growers who do not need early production, this tree is a good producer of good quality nuts and the nuts are easy to store for early markets. This tree has been propagated and planted in experimental plots and on farms in southern and northern portions of the lower peninsula of Michigan and has performed well.
Nuts ‘Michigan Early’
‘Benton Harbor’ is a C. mollissima (Chinese chestnut) selection from seedling trees originally planted at the Michigan State University experiment station plot in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The mother tree remains the largest tree in the plot and initially was planted in 1992 (larger than ‘Colossal’ planted the same year). This tree has produced relatively high yields (70-90 pounds per year) of high quality chestnuts each year. Because it has Chinese germplasm, it is chestnut blight resistant. The single most beneficial characteristic of ‘Benton Harbor’ is that it has more vigor than most Chinese chestnut trees. This makes the tree extremely vulnerable to wind damage. However, the tree is so vigorous, it grows back quickly and stays in production. It also produces very large quantities of pollen starting in early July.
Nuts ‘Benton Harbor’
‘Everfresh’ is a C. mollissima (Chinese chestnut) selection from the Michigan State University experiment station plot at Benton Harbor. The tree is 15-years-old and it has produced chestnuts every year including the 2010 growing season when most Chinese chestnut cultivars were frosted. The single most beneficial characteristic of ‘Everfresh’ is that the nuts produced by this tree have a unique characteristic in that they have an extremely long shelf life. It is a slow growing tree and produces lots of pollen. The flowers set in groups resulting in clumps of burs at the ends of the branches. ‘Everfresh’ produces very well. Each year, this cultivar has produced a high quality nut.
‘Peach’ is a C. mollissima (Chinese chestnut) selection from Greg Miller at Empire Chestnut in Carrollton, Ohio. It was first planted in Michigan at the Michigan State University research station in Benton Harbor in 2000. Two trees were planted and one tree survives and is doing well. The single most beneficial characteristic of ‘Peach’ is that, like ‘Benton Harbor’ it can produce large yields of chestnuts which is rare for Chinese chestnut in Michigan. This tree appears to be vulnerable to very low temperatures. It does not kill the tree but it slows the growth and may be lowering the potential yield. New bud tips are damaged almost every year, but it manages to revitalize and yield well year after year. Since it is a Chinese chestnut tree, it grows slow, produces a lot of pollen after the first week of July, which synchronizes well with the other Chinese cultivars. The cultivar gets it name from the “peach” fuzz found on the shell of the nut. Nuts stay attached to the bur and when it detaches a yellow line forms around the edge of the hilum (spot). This often goes away upon storage.
‘Norman J65’ aka ‘J65’
‘Norman J65’ is a tree (similar to ‘Labor Day’) that was selected from the orchard of Norman Higgins in Perry, Michigan (position in orchard was row J and tree 65). The mother tree is about 50-years-old and it has multiple trunks with upright growth. It is reported to be Korean or have some Korean genetics (probably C. crenata). The most beneficial characteristics of this cultivar are what the late Norman Higgins used to liked about this tree, its early nut production (like ‘Michigan Early’), and the size and quality of the nut. The cultivar also produces large amounts of pollen. The tree shows slow upright growth and the burs are big and thick. The nuts show different sizes when there are 3 nuts in the bur. The cultivar also produces a large amount of pollen and has a tendency to split when there is a wet fall. It is a medium yield producer. This tree has been propagated for future observations around Michigan. Nuts start dropping about September 20 through the first week of October.
Nut ‘Norman J65’
The nut has a good flavor and peels extremely well. The size of the nut varies from 40 to 45 in a pound. The nut has a light red color and produces about 20% double embryos
‘Norman J26’ aka ‘J26’
‘Norman J26’ was selected from the orchard of the late Norman Higgins. It appears to be pure C. mollissima (Chinese chestnut) and is one of the oldest trees in the planting (60-years old). Higgins had two favorite trees, ‘J160’ and ‘J26’. The most beneficial characteristic of this cultivar is what Norm Higgins liked about it--the large nut it produces. The mother tree is a very large tree with a round shape producing about 30 to 40 pounds a year. It is also a good pollen producer. It usually produces only one or two nuts in a bur, it has a low percentage with three nuts which is why the nuts are large. Nuts start dropping about the 5 to 20 of October.
Nut ‘Norman J26’
Large nuts, sets between 32 to 40 nuts per pound, variable size is not constant in it’s size in a bur and sets most of the time one to two nut per bur with double embryos, almost when there is a single nut in the bur will be a double embryo. The nut has also the tendency to split with a wet fall. But in general the nut has good flavor and peels well the skin color is a light red.