American Chestnut – Identification by Catkins

July 5, 2011 at 1:00 am 3 comments

In 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 right he was when some dark, blighted bark drew my eye to chestnuts near Mountain Lake.

At McAfee’s Knob last weekend, Ryan and I were able to spot a American chestnut from a distance thanks to another part of their anatomy– their catkins. We were up at the Southeast section of the Knob (the side facing Roanoke Airport). Looking East, we saw this:

McAfee's Knob - Chestnut Oak AND Behind It-- Catkins Give Away American Chestnut
One of the Many Rocks at the Top

In the foreground is a Chestnut Oak. But it was what was behind it that caught our attention. Back by the rocks– catkins.

McAfee's Knob - Blooming American Chestnut
Catkins By The Rocks

The passage was a little too tight for the pregnancy belly, but thin Ryan went closer to investigate.

McAfee's Knob - Ryan in Pursuit of Blooming American Chestnut
Ryan in Pursuit of Possible Chestnut

And we were right! The flowers were from an American chestnut blooming at the top of McAfee’s Knob on June 26, 2011.

McAfee's Knob - American Chestnut Catkins at Top (By Ryan Somma)
American Chestnut Catkins from McAfee’s Knob (Photo by Ryan Somma)

It goes to show that the more you know about a tree, the more it is going to stick out!


Entry filed under: American Chestnut, Appalachian Trail, Hiking, trees, Uncategorized.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kitty  |  July 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Great find! One of my favorite things to do is (try to) identify trees in winter. You’d be surprised how much you can see by closely inspecting (and knowing) bark, tree growth patterns and characteristics, leaf scar shapes and patterns, winter fruit or remnant leaves, etc.!! You are so right–the more you know, the more the tree jumps out at you!

    • 2. tgaw  |  July 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      I’m good at identifying Shagbark Hickory in the winter, but that one’s super easy.

      American Beech tends to be easy too, particularly since they seem to retain their fall leaves for so long. 🙂

      • 3. Kitty  |  July 8, 2011 at 1:00 pm

        Tulip Poplar is easy to ID, too, because of its recognizably perfect bark and tall, STRAIGHT trunk (and sometimes remnant flower pods up in the branches). I bet if you got a winter ID book, you’d catch on pretty immediately!

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