Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tuesday's Trees- Chinese Chestnut

This past spring there were some trees that had a long white flower on it.  From a distance, driving 55 mph, it could have been mistaken for a Sourwood except I knew that Sourwood did not grow this large and full crowned.  But what was it?  These trees were sighted along the highway in someone's yard, not really the place where you can stop and look closely.  
Well, as I headed to my friend's house for art class, I saw one close to my friend's house.  Since my friend is a tree person too I asked her if she knew what it was.  We hopped in the car, drove up there, looked at the tree, gathered a small branch and research began.   

See the flowers?  These long panicles of small flowers look similar in form to Sourwood FROM A DISTANCE!! up close, not similar at all.   After a great deal of looking, we decided it was a Chinese Chestnut, Castanea mollissima.  Chestnut was in my mind once I saw the beginnings of the nut.  The long white flowers are the male flowers and the little sputnik looking one is the female.  The Chestnut is monoecious.   The flowers appear late spring/ early summer.  Apparently the male flowers are quite fragrant, though I didn't notice it.  Another website says the flowers are foul smelling....glad I didn't get any scent from them.
The leaves are alternately arranged, large simple, pinnately veined, toothed margins.  The leaves can help identify Chinese or American Chestnuts.  The American is more  deeply serrated and slender.  This website has a good side by side comparison, from VA Tech.

These are the immature seeds, maturing late fall.  The stems on a Chinese Chestnut are grey in color.  (another difference between the American and Chinese)

The size of the seed pods are another major difference, the Chinese Chestnuts are larger.   How did I get a picture of the pod?  Well, the first fall I lived here I went up to Asheville with another Master Gardener and we went to the Bountiful City Project, an Edible Forest Ecosystem.    The fruit is edible and also eaten by squirrels, deer, and other mammals.

The Chinese Chestnut is smaller than the American, reaching a mature height of 40- 60 feet.  It is tolerant of many soil conditions except wetlands.   According to one of my sources, landscapers use this tree as a nice landscape tree where the dropping fruit pods will not bother people or pets walking near/under the tree.


You can see the fall colors starting to show, its fall color is yellow to copper.  It is a great shade tree and has few pests.  It is not native (Chinese) and was a good substitute for the American Chestnut that was hit by the chestnut blight.  



The bark is gray/brown to brown.  It has ridges in the bark with no clear pattern.   A mature tree has a rounded crown, forming a lovely tree.   It does not transplant well, it has a coarse root system.

One more look at the size of the leaves...they are quite large.   My sources online are VA Tech, Ohio Public Library, and University of Florida





©Copyright 2012 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

28 comments:

  1. Janet, I love your "Tuesday's Trees" posts. I always learn something new! The flowers are interesting, and the autumn foliage is just lovely. Lucky that you found a sample close to your friend's house! Now, I'm inspired to get out to our forest and try to ID some more of our trees. Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to see what next week's tree will be!

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    1. Julie, thanks. I know you have seen these blooming in the spring, they are planted all over the Upstate. Let me know if you make any identifications!

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  2. Well spotted, Janet. I will keep my eyes open and scout around to see if any of these interesting trees are in our area. I like the fact that the fruits are edible. The rumor is we will have a bad winter and I don't want my boomers to be hungry!

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    1. Lynn, thanks! This one will jump out at you for sure. I wonder about this coming winter, sure was a mild one last year.

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  3. Hi Janet,
    I like the spiky seed pods...reminiscent of Dr. Seuss books. The leaves are beautiful. I miss deciduous trees! I am in the land of conifers.

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    1. Rosey, yes, these seed pods are pretty 'out there'!! I know you are in the land of conifers, a type of tree I have little knowledge of.

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  4. I love trees with those long catkin-like flowers. Big leaves on this Chinese chetnut make it even better! We have lots of filberts here in the PNW that have similar long flowers, and they produce nuts that the squirrels go nuts over. I have one in my back garden, and all year I pull up seedlings where the squirrels have buried the nuts in my garden beds. I don't really mind though.

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    1. Alison, these catkins are striking in the spring. The flowers show after the leaves are out, so this is really a lovely presentation. Yes, we have filberts here too, love the long male flowers.

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  5. They are beautiful trees. My friend Angie grows one and eats those chestnuts too! She boils them and does not roast them. I'm used to roasted chestnuts but never did really like them. Neat flowers.

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    1. Tina, yah for your friend Angie!!! Happy she likes the nut as well. I think of roasted nuts too, think it is from the Christmas song.

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  6. It is great that our wildlife will eat the nuts. I planted a non-native crabapple tree. The bees are happy to pollinate but nothing will eat the mature apples.

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    1. Mary, it is a good nut for the wildlife to eat too. Sorry the birds don't eat your crabapples, wonder why??

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  7. The close-ups really help to show the characteristics of this tree, Janet. It reminds me of my trying to identify the big oak in our yard a few years ago. I'm not good at all at identifying trees, so I took in a few leaves and some acorns to my friend who's a biology teacher. That's when I learned how just a small difference, like the shape of the acorn, can help to identify a tree--mine is a burr oak, it turned out. Anyway, I love all the great information you share with us--you could teach a class on tree identification!

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    1. Rose, thanks, I think so too. Close up pictures have helped me to make my identifications. I did a post on the Burr Oak....very cool acorn.

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  8. It's nice to know that there are alternatives available to the American chestnut, whose decline was a real tragedy. I'm still hoping for a resistant American chestnut variety or hybrid. Good to know the nuts are edible on the Chinese chestnut, wonder how it does at supporting insect life.

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    1. Jason, Will share more about the American Chestnut in November, our Master Gardener group is having a speaker come in and tell us about the American Chestnut. I am not sure about insect life being supported by it. The info says it doesn't have any pest problems, perhaps not interesting to any insects.

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  9. I'm loving these tutorials on trees. Keep em coming!

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    1. Ricki, thanks!! Be sure to check out the previous ones...check out the tab on the top of the page.

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  10. Janet,

    You inspire me to get out with an ID book, too. I bought Native Trees of the Southeast recently just so I can get better at recognizing them...your posts help a lot. Until your last post, the only Celtis I knew was hackberry. I'll have to keep an eye out for sugarberry now. I'm glad you showed the weird little flowers...I love tiny blooms!

    BTW, I finally answered comments on my blog. Would love to work out a garden visit with you and Julie!

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    1. Daricia, You know so many more trees than I do, especially native trees. Would love a get together, lots of them.

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  11. A very cool tree...too bad that we are losing native trees to beetles and blights.

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    1. Donna@GEV, I know, it is a shame that we are losing natives. It is scary how many things attack the trees.

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  12. We had a massive chestnut tree in our yard in upstate NY but I think it was an American chestnut. My kids would throw the spikey balls at each other. It was so big it had to be almost 100 years old, which made sense since the house was built in 1895. I'm rotten at IDing trees so I'm enjoying these tree posts. :o)

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    1. Tammy, It might have been an American Chestnut. I remember a Horse Chestnut when we lived at West Point as a kid. We used those seed spike balls are vicious weapons.

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  13. The farm grows many hybrid chestnut trees for sale. They are some of my favorite trees to specify, yet are not often planted as much as they should be. The natives are lovely as well.

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    1. Donna, How nice that the farm has chestnuts for sale. It is a beautiful tree and you are right, not often planted.

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  14. You have to love a good mystery! I think it is great that you and your friend went on a mission to discover the type of tree from which you had taken a branch. It is a great way to learn new things.

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    1. Jennifer, I get determined to solve the tree mystery!! We had fun getting a sample to help with the identification.

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