Tuesday, September 7, 2010

American Chestnut

A couple of weeks ago I took Gabe out with me to check on the progress of the American Chestnut Foundation's breeding program site at Idylbrook Field in the town of Medway. I can't tell you how happy it makes me seeing these hundreds of young Castanea dentata growing. This has got to be the single most important North American species, plant or animal, and here it is, held ever so precariously from going over the knife-edge of extinction.

Some photos of the leaves, because I'm a nut like that.

More leaves, this time with speckles. Is this due to stress from the drought conditions we have been experiencing? Are the trees heading into autumn already? Or, I shudder to think, is this evidence of the blight?

It looks like the blight manifests itself in cankers on the trunk of the tree, so I think these beauties are safe for now. Thank goodness. Here is some more information on the chestnut blight, if anyone is interested.

Anyway, on to another weekend, and another park. . .

Wait, you're kidding me. Really?

I'm at the Franklin State Forest, and they're here along the edge of the road, just outside the YMCA.

My hand, for scale reference.

The trunk of this one was maybe two inches in diameter at the base. I hope those aren't cracks. Cracks let the blight in.

But I guess it's a foregone conclusion that these little trees will be knocked down by the blight. These aren't young trees. These, almost assuredly, are the regrowth from the roots of trees that died to the ground a hundred years ago. I looked for stumps, but they must have rotted away long ago. These shoots will reach ten or fifteen feet in height, and the blight will wipe them out again.

These trees won't ever grow tall enough to produce offspring. But ironically, coppiced trees can live much longer than trees that grow normally. So long as growing conditions remain suitable, these guys could live for centuries like this.

It is with mixed feelings that I walk away from these little trees. Look, some worker has lopped one off here. I suppose it's not as obvious as smashing a stained-glass window. You have to be some kind of plant geek to recognise this tragically obscure tree. At least this window grows back, somewhat.

But let's end this post on an upbeat note, shall we? Lookee! Squee! Potentially blight-resistant chestnut seeds are becoming available to TACF members! I must look into that! Squeee!


Diana said...

Hi, Michelle. Years ago I saw someplace (long since forgotten where) that was offering seedling Chestnuts. They were trying to breed blight resistant plants and about 1 out of every 5 seemed to survive. If only I had space for large trees.

Then again maybe I should do some guerrilla gardening and plant them in the wild area behind our house...

On another note my planned trip to the Cape has been canceled. I probably won't be able to get down that way for about a month (and then it will be time for a trip to Logee's!). Since I'll be passing along seeds from the Liatris that doesn't flop do you mind waiting? I'd love to come see your gardens when I drive down that way!

Michelle said...

Hi Diana! I'm sorry to hear that your trip to the cape fell through. Let me know when you will be in my area, and I'll try to get the yard tidied up enough to show you around! ;) It would be lovely to meet another one of the fantastic gardeners I have met online.