The American Chestnut

Today’s post is going to be on an unusual topic for this blog; trees.  I love trees.  I’ll speak for Ms. J as well and say that she loves trees too. Ms. J and I often go hiking and it’s been such a great experience being able to bring Mr. C along as well.  Seeing him run around in the forest, finding a new stream, or pond, interesting sticks and rocks, listening for frogs and crickets, makes me remember what it was like to discover new things when I was young.

I grew up in Boston, nowhere near a forest or any hiking trails, but many of the streets were lined with very old and large trees.  The trees were so large that they often formed a canopy over the streets, linking together at the top over the center of the street.  Those trees provided shade and habitat for birds and other animals.  It was a pleasant experience to walk down the streets in my neighborhood, even if only to go to the corner store.  There was always the sound of birds on the street.  Unfortunately, many of those trees were Elms and Chestnuts and they were all killed by Dutch Elm Disease or Chestnut blight.  Entire areas that were once shaded were seemingly overnight bare of any trees.  They all died and were removed so quickly that it seemed as if it happened overnight.

I miss those trees, and I still remember them when I sometimes visit old neighborhoods I knew from my youth.  So it was nice to come across a blog post on Chestnut trees on the Breathe of Green Air blog.  You should go and check out that post and see some magnificent trees in the Roslin valley of Scotland.

We were hiking this past weekend when I was surprised to find a sad little Chestnut tree.  Did you check out those trees in Scotland yet ?

Ok, now check out an American Chestnut.    Here it is, it’s the spindly stick in the middle of the photo below.   It’s the main trunk of the tree, and it’s dead.



What happens to American Chestnuts is that after a few years of growth, the blight will kill the main trunk.  The roots will still live though and it will send out a number of shoots to try to regenerate itself.   Here are the little struggling shoots of this Chestnut, below:




No, I’m no expert on trees and would only have ben able to identify this since there was a little sign next to the tree.   If it was not hit with the blight, this tree would have been a commanding presence in the forest, but instead it’s barely noticeable at all.

So I’m writing this somewhat rambling post in the hope the people here in the US will appreciate what we do have left and will not be afraid to bring their kids out into the forests and hiking trails around them.  Often when we go hiking or camping, we are either the only people around, or al least the only people with a child.   I’ve read that a lot of people in the US are of two minds regarding the outdoors, they think of it as some kind of reverent area that can not be touched and visited, or as a place that might inspire some fear, as a source of disease carrying mosquitos or hungry bears.  It’s upsetting to think that a new generation of kids is not having much interaction with nature and will grow up to consider even small areas of forest as either a nuisance to be removed for new housing tracts, or as a place to avoid for fear of getting dirty.

There is a second reason that I’m writing this post and that’s in response to my current town, Nashua, New Hampshire, cutting down all of the trees on Main Street.  In order to make it easier to replace the old brick sidewalks with new concrete sidewalks,  every tree on the main commercial street in town is being cut down.   It seems as though the large old tree roots heave up the brick sidewalks, making it difficult to repair the sidewalk or to remove snow.   It was sad to loose those old Chestnuts and Elms in Boston to disease, but it’s especially irritating to loose the trees in Nashua simply for convenience.

So instead of growing up in a town with plenty of shade trees lining the streets,  Mr. C is going to grow up in a town with no full grown shade trees in town.  I doubt he will have fond memories of easy snow removal when he  grows up.


16 thoughts on “The American Chestnut

  1. I love trees too and I grew up surrounded by chestnut trees. You know, the ones with the big round chestnuts that are not edible, not the ones you buy at the store. I played in so many ways with those chestnuts and their spiky shells. I wish my kids would experience them but there are none in San Diego. I didn’t know they suffered from a disease here, that’s really sad. As for what your town is doing with its own trees, it’s baffling, but I would hope they would plant new types of trees when redoing the sidewalks, trees that don’t cause that much damage with their roots. Our town has been part of Tree City USA ( for the past 10 years so we’re lucky to have a lot of trees around, even though this is desert San Diego climate. I miss the green of the forests so I feel lucky to have some green around to look at still.

    • We were in San Diego three years ago and had a chance to go to the big park where the zoo is, so at least there’s that area. It did seem as though that was all there was though, since we didn’t see much more green space elsewhere in the city.

      Seems as though the trees in town are seen as a nuisance for some reason. There’s no shade on Main Street now, it does not make me want to go there at all. Quite a few of the stores have recently closed, not sure if it’s related or not, but it does not look good.

      • You’re absolutely right. Besides Balboa Park, San Diego has very few trees and most of them are palm trees or eucalyptus trees that drop their large branches and kill people on the way down. That’s why I’m glad I like in the suburbs, in a town that cares about featuring some green. It’s a much more pleasant environment. The view outside my living room is actually all trees. A very unusual sight for the San Diego area.

    • We were in Seattle a few months ago and notices taped to the trees on a street near the Seattle Center. Might have been Mercer Street. It looked as though there was going to be some construction on the street and each tree had an value assessment attached to it explaining that it should not be harmed during the construction. I had never seen anything like that before and really admired the city for putting so much thought into the urban environment.

  2. One of the best parts of the new house is that it has trees. Good trees. not just scrubby box elder with a few cherry and soft maple thrown in like we used to have. But Oak, Walnut, Ash, Butternut, Willow. pines… It’s a VERY nice change. Of course I’m not sure where I’ll now put my much wished for goats – so I guess it’s a good thing that they are still a dream! 🙂 For now we’ll just have to enjoy the shade!

    • Wow, that’s a nice variety of trees! It must also mean that your house will be cooler in the summer as well. Our son has gotten interested in plants now and has planted four trees from seeds so far; hickory, peach, red maple, and oak. The red maple is the oldest at four months and is already about six inches tall. Maybe we’ll plant them on Main Street.

  3. I live in the middle of a typical suburban area. But my house originally sat on several lots – the original owner loved trees and didn’t want anything cut down. As a results I live in a 1-Acre Wood. I’m always a bit surprised by people who come to my home for the first time and are astonished by the number of trees and the variety of them. It’s almost is if they don’t notice them unless there Is a small forest. Most people’s ignorance of trees is amazing. Often I get comments like “I bet you get two or three weekends a year where you do nothing but rake leaves”. They don’t realize that every tree sheds its leaves differently And it isn’t a two or three week period but from Labor Day until Thanksgiving. It has been a wonder to me to live in the woods and to observe firsthand the cycle of nature through the beautiful trees. I’m glad that Mr. C likes being in the woods but it makes me sad that he won’t know his town once had full-grown shade trees on Main Street.

    If I get my act together I may have a post up in the next day or two with pictures of my trees, specifically one big oak tree that I’m trying to chronicle every month.

    • That sounds like a nice yard! Before we lived here I had a house on an acre or so of land which was mostly covered by trees. My neighbors, who also had similar yards, would just hire someone to come by and rake the leaves. I just couldn’t do that. Partly because I’m too frugal to pay someone else to rake, but mostly because I actually do like to be out in the yard in the late Fall to do that yard work.

      I’ll look forward to seeing your posts on those trees!

  4. Thanks for the link back, but Im so sad for your Chestnut trees. I wonder where the disease which kills and stunts the trees came from. Such a loss…..
    I only hope the diseases can’t reach across the ocean to Scotand.

    • Thanks for the link, I wasn’t aware of the same issue with the Chinquapin.

      I read an essay about the Chestnut a few years ago by Donald Culross Peattie, it was really quite poetic. All I remember is the line that went something like:
      “All words about the American Chestnut now only serve as an elegy to it.”

      Here’s a link to an article on Chestnuts, which includes some info from a scientist from the U of Arkansas:

      • Thanks for the link to the article. I linked back to Fred Paillet’s page at the university and see he’s published at least one journal article on the chinquapin as well. It is so sad about the chestnuts; the loss of an wonderful tree.

        Thanks for posting about the chestnut. Or hopes ride with the geneticists.

  5. American Chestnuts like the one you found are quite common in southern NH. There are hundreds like that in the woods around my house in Mason. Despite that, big chestnuts are rare, but 3 or 4 have been discovered in the Nashua area the last few years.

    I used to live in Nashua so it’s sad to here the cut down the trees on main st, but you never know maybe soon they’ll replace them with chestnuts 😉

    • looks like the tree cutting has hit a lull, at least for now. Does make me wonder what they’re planning on doing once it comes time for the tree trimming on main street!

      Thanks for the comment!

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