An Auburn University research project that began more than 75 years ago has yielded six new Chinese chestnut varieties and two dwarf cultivars that have been selectively bred to drop an abundance of high-quality nuts in succession from late August through November, providing a continuous high-energy food source for wildlife throughout the fall.

When the new cultivated varieties hit the market this fall, they will come as package deals. Four of them — AU Buck I, AU Buck II, AU Buck III and AU Buck IV — produce large crops of medium- to large-sized nuts and will be marketed together as the Chinese chestnut deer package.

The other four — Gobbler I, Gobbler II and the two dwarfs, or seguins, AU Premier and AU Encore — bear smaller chestnuts that are ideal for wild turkey and together will comprise the turkey package.

“These cultivars have been developed for wildlife purposes,” veteran Auburn horticulture professor and researcher Billy Dozier says. “They have staggered chestnut-drop dates, so if you plant all the trees in a package together in a group, you’ll have a constant supply of chestnuts on the ground all the way from about the end of August on up until the end of November every year.”

Auburn’s Office of Technology Transfer, which serves as the link between Auburn researchers and the commercial marketplace, has licensed the patented cultivars to The Wildlife Group, and that Macon County nursery will introduce limited supplies of both the deer and the turkey Chinese chestnut packages to the market later this year.

Though each of the cultivars has been developed for its specific desirable traits, all share several important characteristics that make them an excellent option for landowners looking to enhance wildlife habitat on their property. They are prolific, highly adaptable, blight-resistant trees that grow quickly and produce large crops year after year. Plus, they need little to no maintenance.

“They’re easy to grow,” Dozier says. “We don’t use and never have used fungicides or insecticides on any of our chestnut trees, and through all these decades, we haven’t found a disease or pest yet that bothers them.”