When we took off, he was concerned that I may be taking him to see Horse Chestnut Trees (aka Buckeye Trees), but he was pleasantly surprised when he realized that I did indeed know the difference.
We visited numerous locations around the area and he carefully documented their locations on a Maine Gazetteer. It turns out that New England used to be home to millions of American Chestnut Trees, which can grow to be a few feet in diameter.
In the early 1900s, a blight was somehow introduced that would eventually wipe out almost all of these majestic trees. The American Chestnut Foundation, as I remember it, started a program in Maine (and possibly other states too), to breed blight-resistance into the trees. They would plant a few hundred trees in each of a few locations around the state and after a few years, they would introduce the blight to each lot. About 98 percent of the trees would die, but two or three would live.
They would take the seeds from these few surviving trees and reproduce the experiment over and over until blight-resistance was bred into them. This is a process that takes many years, but it sounds like there has been some success.
In case you’ve never seen an American Chestnut Tree, it is similar to a Beech Tree; only the leaves are narrower but more conspicuously toothed, and the bark is furrowed. The nuts are also similar to a Beech Nut but much larger and the spines are long and much sharper. This is in contrast to the much shorter, less pointed and more sparsely, spaced spines on a nut from a Horse Chestnut Tree. American Chestnut wood is a hardwood that has many uses, including furniture making.
Who knows, maybe we will eventually be graced again by their presence in our yards and in our forests. Thank you, American Chestnut Foundation. As far as I’m concerned, we can never have too many trees.
The author is general manager of Q-Team Tree Service in Naples and is also a licensed Arborist. He can be reached at RobertFogg@Q-Team.com or 207-693-3831.