July 15, 2022

I was lagging behind, catching up with a friend as my fellow bloggers hotfooted it after our fast-talking and even faster-walking tour guide at UW Arboretum, a stop on the Madison Garden Bloggers Fling. Time was short, and the guide was beelining to noteworthy trees. During one pause he glanced at his watch and then turned quickly, telling us he had something special to show us, a tree he’d noticed blooming earlier that day.

It was an American chestnut. Castanea dentata. My eyes lifted to it in amazement as we gathered around. The American chestnut, once the king of the great Eastern forests, is now virtually extinct, wiped out by blight 100 years ago. The poetic and heartbreaking description of the chestnut’s heyday and decline in the wonderful novel The Overstory had pierced my heart when I read it. And now here I was, gazing at a survivor.

Why had the blight not killed this tree? (Not yet, one might add.)

Isolation.

This tree grows far from the American chestnut’s original range, where blight spores linger and eventually infect saplings that still rise from the stumps of old, stricken trees. Birds and pollinators can carry blight spores long distances too. But so far this lonely chestnut has remained safe. It lacks the grand stature of a mature chestnut, but it’s a good-sized tree. I hope it continues to evade the blight.

Our guide told us that the male catkins, which dangle among the toothy leaves like ivory-yellow tassels, light up a chestnut from above — like floral fireworks. Imagine a whole forest of these pale blossoms swaying in the breeze. It’s a vision that no longer exists except in stories about America’s past.

I noticed prickly burrs on the ground under the canopy and picked one up. It poked my unwary fingers. This is the remnant of a female flower, which appears on the same tree as the male catkins. If pollination occurs — which requires cross-pollination with another chestnut tree — two or three nuts form inside the female flower’s protective burr. Sharp spines safeguard the nuts until they ripen, at which time the burrs split open and fall from the tree, revealing the edible bounty within.

I can’t recall if our guide told us whether this tree ever produces nuts — if there is another lonely American chestnut near enough for pollinators to find both of them. But this one, at least, flowers each June, hoping.

Maybe somewhere out there is another American chestnut, one far enough from the blight zone, or resistant to it…

…looking for love too.

Up next: Conifers, a waterlily pond, and a sunny crevice garden at Allen Centennial Garden. For a look back at Linda Grosz’s prairie garden for wildlife, click here.

I welcome your comments. Please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward this email to you, and you want to subscribe? Click here to get Digging delivered directly to your inbox!

__________________________

Digging Deeper

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark! Hungry to learn about garden design from the experts? I’m hosting a series of talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. The 6th season kicks off in fall 2022.

All material (C) 2022 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

The post Nearly extinct American chestnut – a vision from America’s past – at UW Arboretum appeared first on Digging.

The American chestnut, once the king of the Eastern forests, is now virtually extinct. Yet here I was, gazing at a survivor at UW Arboretum…. Read More
The post Nearly extinct American chestnut – a vision from America’s past – at UW Arboretum appeared first on Digging.Read MoreFeedzy

July 15, 2022

I was lagging behind, catching up with a friend as my fellow bloggers hotfooted it after our fast-talking and even faster-walking tour guide at UW Arboretum, a stop on the Madison Garden Bloggers Fling. Time was short, and the guide was beelining to noteworthy trees. During one pause he glanced at his watch and then turned quickly, telling us he had something special to show us, a tree he’d noticed blooming earlier that day.

It was an American chestnut. Castanea dentata. My eyes lifted to it in amazement as we gathered around. The American chestnut, once the king of the great Eastern forests, is now virtually extinct, wiped out by blight 100 years ago. The poetic and heartbreaking description of the chestnut’s heyday and decline in the wonderful novel The Overstory had pierced my heart when I read it. And now here I was, gazing at a survivor.

Why had the blight not killed this tree? (Not yet, one might add.)

Isolation.

This tree grows far from the American chestnut’s original range, where blight spores linger and eventually infect saplings that still rise from the stumps of old, stricken trees. Birds and pollinators can carry blight spores long distances too. But so far this lonely chestnut has remained safe. It lacks the grand stature of a mature chestnut, but it’s a good-sized tree. I hope it continues to evade the blight.

Our guide told us that the male catkins, which dangle among the toothy leaves like ivory-yellow tassels, light up a chestnut from above — like floral fireworks. Imagine a whole forest of these pale blossoms swaying in the breeze. It’s a vision that no longer exists except in stories about America’s past.

I noticed prickly burrs on the ground under the canopy and picked one up. It poked my unwary fingers. This is the remnant of a female flower, which appears on the same tree as the male catkins. If pollination occurs — which requires cross-pollination with another chestnut tree — two or three nuts form inside the female flower’s protective burr. Sharp spines safeguard the nuts until they ripen, at which time the burrs split open and fall from the tree, revealing the edible bounty within.

I can’t recall if our guide told us whether this tree ever produces nuts — if there is another lonely American chestnut near enough for pollinators to find both of them. But this one, at least, flowers each June, hoping.

Maybe somewhere out there is another American chestnut, one far enough from the blight zone, or resistant to it…

…looking for love too.

Up next: Conifers, a waterlily pond, and a sunny crevice garden at Allen Centennial Garden. For a look back at Linda Grosz’s prairie garden for wildlife, click here.

I welcome your comments. Please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward this email to you, and you want to subscribe? Click here to get Digging delivered directly to your inbox!

__________________________

Digging Deeper

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark! Hungry to learn about garden design from the experts? I’m hosting a series of talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. The 6th season kicks off in fall 2022.

All material (C) 2022 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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