American Chestnut – Identification by Blight

January 19, 2009 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Last May I attended an American Chestnut Field Day at Lesesne State Forest in Virginia sponsored by the American Chestnut Foundation. There, Wayne Bowman of the Virginia Department of Forestry shared a wealth of information about the tree. With Chinese trees, American trees and all the hybrids in between on the property, he was able to take us into the forest and give us an hands-on look at the characteristics of both species.

Wayne Bowman grabs a leaf sample for discussion

Wayne Bowman discusses chestnut leaves

Now that I was fully armed with the differences between Chinese Chestnut leaves and American Chestnut leaves and more confident in my identification abilities, Bowman took me offguard. Winter time, he reported, was a great time to find American Chestnuts.

Winter time? But… but…there are no leaves?

Bowman pointed to the trunk and branches of a nearby American Chestnut tree. Black and cracked, the tree was ravashed by the blight fungus.

Bowman discussed blight damage with the group

“Know anything in the forest that looks like that?” he asked.

Blight damage at Lesesne State Forest

Last month, Wayne Bowman’s words rang true. I was in Blacksburg for a weekend and did some hiking up in the Mountain Lake area. On the way back, I pulled off on the side of VA-700 to snag a Season Compare shot of Butt Mountain. Once I snapped my photos, I turned away from the view and put my camera back in its case. When I looked up, I was struck by what I saw across the street.

Do you see it?

A row of blighted bark? Dumbfounded, I took a closer look (But not too close– it was private property lined with No Trespassing signs). Sure enough– they were chestnuts and the sickly trees were surrounded by burrs.

Tree off VA-700

Someone apparently is growing a little chestnut orchard off of VA-700. Now, I had been to this exact same spot many times before. I was even there in November taking fall foliage pictures, but never noticed these trees before. They were hidden. It took the nudity winter brings to the forest with just the trunks and branches on display for them to be seen.

And Wayne Bowman was right. They were easy to spot. I wasn’t even looking for them.

Even without their leaves, these trees were far from anonymous.

More pictures of the American Chestnut Field Day in Lesesne State Forest are available on my Flickr site. If you would like to snag pictures of your own or would like to learn more about the American Chestnut– keep an eye out next Spring. The Virginia Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation is planning another field day for 2009!

Entry filed under: American Chestnut, Lesesne State Forest, trees, Wayne Bowman.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • […] May of 2008, Wayne Bowman of the Virginia Department of Forestry surprised me when he said winter was a great time to find American chestnuts. I was skeptical because the trees would be missing their leaves, but eight months later, I saw how […]


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