Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More Unicorns

After having stumbled across a blooming American chestnut quite by accident, I was inspired to go hunting for more. I knew that the Nature Trail and Cranberry Bog at Patriot Place was full of chestnut regrowth, so it seemed like a logical place to search. While there were lots of chestnuts, tall ones even, along the wooded trail, they appeared to be too busy trying to reach sunlight to produce flowers. So I tried the parking lot.

And I lucked out - not one, but two flowering American chestnuts!

As a joke, I have been telling my friends how I am hunting for unicorns. So, I am giving my chestnut finds unicorn designation numbers. Let me introduce you to Unicorn 2 and Unicorn 3. (You've already met Unicorn 1.)

Unicorn 2 is a scraggly shrub, no more than 15 feet tall. She has some dead twigs, with withered leaves on some. Other dead twigs are bare.

The catkins are scattered unevenly about the tree. Most, from what I could see, only had male flowers.

More catkins. Click to see the image enlarged. I'm not seeing any female flowers here.

This one has female flowers, though.

These three female flowers were the only ones I was able to see, even when I zoomed in on my photos.

This tree is a shrubbery of suckers. But it isn't blocked by undergrowth, the ground is reasonably flat around it, and it would be easy to get a ladder here.

The main trunk measured in at 4 inches in diameter, at approximately 4.5 feet from the ground. But as you can see, there is blight damage.

Here are those dead twigs I had mentioned.

Lastly, here is the tree with each visible catkin-bearing branch marked. There are 30 marks. But I'm guessing that most of those clusters don't have female flowers.

Onward! Here is Unicorn 3, to the left of a light post. This one is maybe 25 or 30 feet tall. At first glance, it didn't appear to have flowers at all.

Male flowers.

More male flowers.

More male flowers. And overall, the catkins on this one are a lot smaller and . . . less enthusiastic?

Are these catkins just a bit more immature than the previous trees? I don't know.

The trunk is large, but I couldn't get to it to take a measurement. Nor could I see the ground. It may slope downward in there. And this looks like blight damage.

The thicket is too dense to casually walk up to this tree. I guestimate a diameter of 17 inches.

Higher up the tree.

I would mark flower clusters on this tree, but I can't even see them when I zoom into the photo. Click the image to enlarge.

Chris joked that I'm having such luck finding these unicorns because I have a virgin maiden along. Har har har.

Lastly, here is a map of the area, thanks to Google.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Blooming Chestnut!

While I was out with a friend walking the Milford Section of the Upper Charles Trail, we stopped so that I could nurse Kaylee. While shooing away mosquitoes, I noticed that there was a lot of American chestnut regrowth in the area. And then I saw that the largest of them was covered in catkins.

Kathy Desjardin at the American Chestnut Society has confirmed from a photo I sent that this is an American Chestnut, and that it has female flowers, which means that if they can get permission in time, and if it has enough female flowers to be worth their while, they can pollinate this tree as a part of their breeding program.

The bike path starts from a parking lot off of Dilla Street, at Louisa Lake.

This is the gate leading to the path. (And a note for the folks at TACF, the path is large enough for a truck. Turning the truck around in there would be difficult, however, and the gate is locked.)

The tree is here, by a "pull off area", less than a mile down the path. The backpack on the path marks the location of the tree.

Here it is, by the end of the fence, with my son as scale reference.
The tree is ten or fifteen feet from the path, down an incline, and surrounded by raspberry brambles and other plants. (But there was no poison ivy that I could see, at least.)

I was wearing Kaylee at the time, so I couldn't safely get in there to make a measurement or assess the health of the trunk. But I could see this much from the path.

Here is a view showing a slightly lower segment of the trunk. I don't know if that vertical mark is a feature of chestnut bark, or evidence of blight.

Fiddling around with a piece of string and a ruler, I guestimate the diameter of the tree at 4.5 feet from where I think the ground is to be about 16 inches.

Kathy was curious if we could figure out from my photos how many nuts the tree is making. I couldn't see female flowers on all of the clusters of catkins. . .

. . .but this one has four.

Here is a close-up of the female flowers. Each one will become a nut.

This one has four as well.

Here is another shot of the tree.

This is the same photo, cropped in close. I have placed a purple dot at the location of every catkin cluster I could see in the photo. There are about fifty dots. So, my conservative estimate would be fifty nuts. More wishfully, two hundred. I don't know how many potential nuts would make this tree worth the TACF's time, since pollinating a tree requires a large truck and someone with a lot of patience.

This is the remains of another American chestnut tree nearby. This one also made it to a good 20 feet tall before it was killed by the blight. The live one is 25 or 30 feet. Hopefully it lasts a few productive seasons before dying.

I never thought I would see an American chestnut blooming in the wild, much less find one myself. I don't have adequate words to describe how I feel right now. I had to tell my friends that this is like seeing a unicorn.

Tomorrow I plan on going to the Cranberry Bog at Patriot Place, because there is another American chestnut there, too, that I spotted last month. It is of a similar size, and appears to be suffering from blight. I'll get some photos for TACF. Hopefully it is blooming, too.


I found an American chestnut in flower. The tree appears to my untrained eye to have female flowers. Posting this for the TACF folks. . . more photos of the tree and location coming shortly. . .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tall Peas and a Happy Father's Day

The Sugar Snap peas are so tall at this point that even with Gabe on my shoulders they're still peaking out over his head. They've produced a bounty of delicious peas, made all the more sweet by the memories of Gabe planting them with me. For those of you with toddlers you also know how hard it can be to get them to eat greens, and seeing Gabe demolish peas in the garden is a welcome sight indeed.

Nursery Web Spider

When I went to clean out the salad garden that had spent the winter snug in the greenhouse there were several spiders per sq. ft. It really was amazing just how much bio-diversity that 4'x8' section of garden was sporting. The biggest spider of them all was this Nursery Web Spider that really startled me.

While it isn't huge by Tarantula standards, for New England this is a monster. It was very patient with me and even stayed still when I placed a dime behind it for scale. I should say that I adore spiders and the job they do. They are very welcome in the garden and this one was released into the pea plants to keep up the good work.