American Chestnut Check

With the trees in Prospect Park fully and lushly leafed, providing blessed shade, I thought I would check in on the American chestnuts there. When last we looked, the little leaves had only just emerged. This is what they look like now, 7-8″ long. The chestnut’s species name is dentata, which makes sense when you know that these points on the leaf are known as teeth. (Forestry maven Elbert L. Little, Jr. describes them thusly: “coarsely toothed with slightly curved teeth.”)

American chestnuts belong to the beech family of trees, Fagaceae. They share a genus, Castanea, with the European sweet chestnut (the ones you roast on an open fire.) The similarly named horse chestnut belongs to the soapberry family, as do buckeyes. Both the horse chestnut, a native of SE Europe and a popular ornamental tree here, and the native buckeyes are in the same genus: Aesculus. Their leaves are palmate, like an out-spread palm. Horse chestnuts are found all over, but buckeyes are rare locally; there is a grand old one overlooking the ball fields in Prospect at the base of Quaker Hill.

Something else with teeth has been eating these leaves. I turned one over to see a spider in wait for another chewer:Chestnut leaves have long been a source for herbal remedies. So, considering the foraging impulse, and the medicinal impulse, and the rarity impulse (people — Congressman! — get a grip on your impulses!), the location of these trees will remain unpublicized here, particularly since the blight attacks through breaches in the tree’s defenses.

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