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Castanea - the chestnuts
Posted on December 9, 2013 by Ash
Autumn is once again a receding memory, growing dimmer everyday as we continue the inexorable slide into the darkest depths of winter… But try hard enough and it’s still possible to cast our minds back to a time when the trees still had leaves; when warm shades of gold, orange and red coloured the landscape; when the mercury didn’t sit so low in the thermometer.
This towering deodar (Cedrus deodara) grows close to the East Gate. It is a beautiful and imposing tree, one of the finest in the gardens.
Looking up into the hefty crown of the deodar - how many branches? How many growth points? What tonnage of timber?
A neighbouring big, old sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) seems sadly to be in serious decline. The tree was rather sparsely foliated at the time of this visit, but at that point in the autumn natural leaf loss would have been premature. It’s a shame because it’s another fine tree. A major branch has a few old wounds on it, one of which sported a nice bit of fungus. It’ll be interesting to see how the tree looks in spring.
I came across these Pholiota squarrosa mushrooms growing at the base of a big European beech (Fagus sylvatica). They were also growing around the base of a nearby heartnut, a variant of the Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis). P. squarrosa is a parasitic white-rot fungus that attacks a wide range of host trees.
This mushroom was growing under a pine tree… …along with its wee pal.
This dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) in the Chinese Hillside part of the gardens was positively radiant. The needles - here so vibrantly illuminated - are now long gone, this being a deciduous species.
This oak really stood out from the crowd!
A nice cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) growing in front of the 1960s glasshouses. At least this tree will keep its leaves all winter long.
Autumnal maple leaves.
On this visit I was quite keen to get some photos of the mushroom population. There weren’t so many of a big enough size to stand out as I strolled along, but if I just stopped for a moment to study the mulch that surrounds the base of every tree, there were far more mushrooms to be seen than most people would have realised. Perhaps these are waxcaps of some sort?
The distinctive spiny cupules of sweet chestnut. Apparently the nuts can’t attain their full size in the British climate, so the roasting chestnuts that appear in the shops for winter are imported from the continent. I had a bag of roast chestnuts at Edinburgh’s European Christmas Market last week – they were enormous and very tasty!
I’m fairly sure this is a hare’s foot inkcap (Coprinus lagopus). This mushroom is quite interesting; according to Wikipedia, “As the mushroom matures, the shape of the cap becomes more conical or convex, and finally flattens out, with edges curved upward. The veil is initially whitish, then turns to a silvery grey or grey-brown; it eventually splits up, becoming hairy (fibrillose). ... In maturity the gill edges dissolve (deliquesce) into a black liquid. These mushrooms are evanescent, lasting only last a few hours before death…”
Posted on March 23, 2010 by Ash
I went out for a wander on Sunday and was slightly disappointed to see such little springly progress from the buds on the locally-growing deciduous trees.
Hazel (Corylus avellana) buds and catkins. The catkins – some folks know them as lambs’ tails – are made up of male flowers. A female flower is hiding in the upper-centre of this photo.
Birch (probably downy birch, Betula pubescens).
English oak (Quercus robur). I’ve noticed that the terminal buds are often flanked by a pair of smaller buds, although the terminal bud in this photo has lost one of its two buddies. (It’s the Lonely Oak!)
Larch (probably European larch, Larix decidua) pegs and a ‘bud’ of some sort – maybe a flower very early on in development? I was very disappointed to find that there were no larch roses on this tree at all; this time last year they were out in force!
Goat willow (Salix caprea). On some of the trees catkins were already forming! I noticed that the buds on the trees with catkins were a light green while the trees without catkins had reddish buds (as in the above photo). Is this a way to tell the male trees from the female trees?
Common alder (Alnus glutinosa). Distinctively purply-velvety buds.
Hawthorn (probably the common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna).
Here’s a wee hawthorn story: I was at college today, being taught how to use Tirfor winches in the context of stump removal. It is an agricultural college, and someone in the equestrian section pointlessly wanted a small section of hawthorn hedge, about five metres long, removing from a little patch of grass next to the stables. It was the remnant of a hedgerow that was mostly destroyed when the stables were built – a hedgerow probably laid down hundreds of years ago. Our instructor, an arboricultural legend (who shares my view that it is a great shame to get rid of something planted so long ago), reckoned it probably dated from the mid-eighteenth century, perhaps from medieval times; possibly, if it was Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), it may have dated from as far back as the tenth century! The roots were certainly grand old things.
European beech (Fagus sylvatica). The buds are easily identified with their long and pointy ways. ‘Cigar-shaped’, some say.
Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). Unassuming, eh?
And of the buds of other locally-growing tree species that I saw up close but are MIA from this post… Common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) buds showed no signs of opening yet, sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) buds were green and swelling, and elder (Sambucus nigra) – I saw a couple of elders with closed buds but one growing on a south-facing slope was covered in tiny green leaves, yippee!
Posted on December 29, 2009 by Ash
The venerable veteran of Wigtwizzle – a sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) of considerable age and girth.
These photos are from a couple of Sundays ago when, driving home over the moors, I was ambushed by much snow. I couldn’t resist stopping for a few piccies.
These beeches (Fagus sylvatica) grow in the adjacent parkland that once surrounded Broomhead Hall.
Posted on October 11, 2009 by Ash
Three sweet chestnuts sitting in an opened cupule. The dead catkin that held the male flowers, still attached to the base of the cupule (which once was a female flower), can be seen in the background. [Photo: 8 Oct. ‘09]
Last Thursday (the 8th of October) I went on a tree mission to Wigtwizzle with my sister. Mission objective: to collect nuts from the massive sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) there for treeblog Set D.
The Wigtwizzle chestnut. Beast! [Photo: 7 Jul. ‘07]
While a lot of unripe cupules were stillon the tree, a great many ripe ones were lying open on the ground below. While trying to avoid a nettling, I managed to gather a haul of chestnuts with a total fresh weight of 75 g (2 ½ oz). Mission accomplished!
The Set D sweet chestnut haul. Third time lucky?
I collected nuts from the same tree in 2007 and 2008 for Set B and Set C respectively, but I didn’t manage to grow a single seedling. I now know the error of my bad old ways; I erred by waiting until spring before planting, by which time the chestnuts – which lose moisture rapidly and so are unsuited to storage – would have been well and truly dessicated. This time around, with only two days passing between collection and planting, treeblog might finally produce some baby sweet chestnuts.
I planted one hundred of the nuts yesterday in five forty-individual-pockets-to-a-tray seed trays using a special seeds and cuttings compost from B&Q. I ran out of room (and out of compost), so I had about sixty nuts left over. Until I decide what to do with them, I’ve mixed ‘em with some damp compost and popped ‘em in a plastic bag.
One of the seed trays showing forty chestnuts in forty ‘pockets’: a planting action shot.
The final product: five seed trays with one hundred sweet chestnuts carefully picked and planted. This is treeblog Set D(c) - the chestnut part of Set D. Set D(b) – the beech part – was planted on the 30th of September and the rowan seeds – Set D(r) – have just begun pretreatment and are on schedule for a springtime planting.
The 10th of October 2009 = Set D(c) Day 0.
Posted on May 1, 2009 by Ash
Before we get stuck in to the main course, would Reader like a starter? Another two seedlings were observed in the birch tray yesterday (Day 50), bringing the total to twenty-six. On top of that, a Set C first: two seedlings were discovered in sweet chestnut territory! But are they really sweet chestnut seedlings or just weed impostors? I’ve never seen a sweet chestnut seedling before, but I had a mental image of them being, uh, beefier. At least they’re not nettles…
The Set C birch seeds. I collected them from an impressive tree on Whitwell Moor. Those catkins (more correctly “strobiles”) were chock-a-block full of seeds too.
The Set C sweet chestnuts. I collected them from a magnificent old tree at Wigtwizzle.
…some very small seeds, such as willow and poplar, and some very large fruits, such as oak, sycamore, sweet chestnut and horse chestnut, die quite soon after being shed from the tree – one of the last properties you would normally associate with seeds. The fruits are killed if they dry out and at present there is no known method of doing anything more than slowing down their rate of deterioration. It is therefore only worth collecting seeds of these species if you can sow them fairly quickly, or are prepared to suffer significant losses over, for example, one winter’s storage.
Great. It goes on to describe chestnuts as recalcitrant – highly perishable. One thing you can’t do is to let these things dry out: “if they are frozen or dried, they die”. I didn’t have anywhere humid to store my chestnuts, so I stuck them in the shed all winter. The air in the shed is certainly not as dry as that in the house, but I wouldn’t exactly call it humid. At least I didn’t put them in the freezer.
I collected these, the majority of the Set C rowan berries, from a tree on Whitwell Moor. A further eighty or so berries were collected from a tree near Upper Midhope.
Fleshy fruits are also some of the most awkward and certainly the messiest to process. …very occasionally a little fermentation can help. However, for seeds such as hawthorn, holly and rowan, fermentation can be significantly harmful or even fatal and is therefore to be avoided. Subsequently, most seeds will need repeated washing not only to remove the clinging remnants of sticky flesh, but also as a means of removing chemicals that have the potential to inhibit germination.
Germination-inhibiting chemicals? Oh no! (At least rowan seeds, like birch seeds, are “orthodox” so can be dried and frozen for storage. My berries experienced the same storage conditions as my birch seeds.) Anyway, once your rowan seeds are nice and clean with no tarrying trace of berry, they can enter pretreatment hell. The guide describes pretreatment as “Only partially effective: even with the longest pretreatment durations and/or several pretreatment cycles”! Still, it recommends 2-4 warm (about 15°C) weeks and 16-30 cold (about 4°C) weeks of pretreatment. Awesome.
* * * * *
Raising trees and shrubs from seed is a great little guide. It provides a host of advice on collecting, preparing, storing and planting seed. You can download it free from here: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/fcpg018.pdf/$FILE/fcpg018.pdf
Posted on March 11, 2009 by Ash
Day 0 (Set C).
One hundred and one weeks since the planting of Set A and fifty-one weeks since the planting of failed Set B, I planted treeblog’s Set C today in a private garden ceremony. This latest set is represented by three species: rowan (Sorbus aucuparia L.), sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa Mill.), and birch (either silver (Betula pendula Roth) or downy (Betula pubescens Ehrh.)). Whereas a single tree provided me with all my chestnuts, and another with all my birch seeds, my rowan berries were collected from two different trees.
Another (more aesthetically pleasing) view of those chestnuts.
The planting process was straightforward. I half-filled four seed trays with compost. Into one tray went all the birch seeds, into another went the Whitwell Moor rowan berries, into the third went half of the sweet chestnuts, and into the fourth went the rest of the chestnuts and the Upper Midhope rowan berries. All nicely spaced out likes. Then a light covering of more compost and a good watering.
Posted on October 10, 2008 by Ash
(The photos in this post can be viewed at a higher resolution – click them to open their Flickr pages, then click the ‘All sizes’ button.)
Sweet chestnuts. I have a desire to see sweet chestnut trees in the treeblog stables, and I know the perfect thoroughbred stallion to sire them. Last year, after jumping the gun a few times, I got hold of a tub of chestnuts from this hoss and planted thirty in March of this year for treeblog’s Set B. Not a single nut germinated. In fact Set B only produced one seedling, and that didn’t live very long. Set B was a massive failure.
2009 will be the year of treeblog’s Set C, and this time there will be sweet chestnuts. I’ve been back to the parent tree twice this week – on Saturday and Thursday – and I have collected a shed-load of nuts. I reckon I must have got about 150. So there is no way treeblog is coming away empty-handed in 2009. Set C is going to be sweet.
The chestnuts I gathered on my forays.
Posted on August 1, 2008 by Ash
Inflorescence on a common lime a.k.a. European linden (Tilia x europaea). The common lime is a hybrid of the small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) and the large-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos).
A cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) tree!
Two eucalypts in front of one of the glasshouses: another cider gum on the right, and in the background a ribbon gum a.k.a. manna gum (Eucalyptus viminalis).
Cider gum foliage and seed pods. These are the ‘mature form’ leaves, as opposed to the ‘juvenile form’ leaves currently seen on treeblog’s own cider gums.
A grove of six giant sequoias a.k.a. Sierra redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The largest tree in the world, General Sherman, is a giant sequoia.
This sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) tree has a massive trunk, which splits into three huge boughs.
Looking up one of the huge boughs. I saw three different sweet chestnuts in the Garden and all were of massive girth. I bet they are easily some of the biggest trees in the collection.
Male sweet chestnut catkins in full bloom. The bright green spiny female parts will develop into the distinctive spiky cupules which each usually contain three chestnuts.
Posted on March 22, 2008 by Ash
A follow-up post to this one all about my time at the Thetford Forest silver birch provenance trial, replete with photos of trees and bark and twigs and stuff like that.
The trial was rife with these little horrors: common or pearl-studded puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum), well past their prime. These little bags are full of spores, so mind you don't step on them. The spores are spikey and will irritate the lungs if enough are inhaled, causing lycoperdonosis.
A normally-green-but-for-some-reason-red bryophyte. Isn't it pretty?
A pair of female silver birch catkins. These will be packed with tiny winged seeds!
This is very strange. A twig coming in from the right has made contact with a twig from a different tree and has coiled around it like a vine tendril. Why has it done this? Is it some freakish genetic mutation? Can we cultivate vine birches???
A sweet chestnut. There were a couple of big sweet chestnuts and a few big oaks around the edge of the provenance trial. These probably grew up when the land was in its previous use as a pine plantation and were retained when the pines were felled. There were loads of chestnuts covering the ground beneath this tree. I hereby conclude that this part of the forest has a squirrel shortage, and that rabbits don't like chestnuts (there were a lot of signs of rabbit activity).
Looking down at bark on a pine stump. A few of these stumps were scattered about the trial, remnants of the old plantation. Most of the stumps had been removed and were piled outside the trial. I guess the ground was then rotovated to level it off again.
These young pines, probably Scots pines, were growing right next to the birch trial. One day they might look like...
... this. A mature Scots pine plantation, just a couple of hundred metres from the birch trial. These can't be far from being harvested now.
And today I am fresh back from another silver birch provenance trial, this one overlooking Loch Tay up in the Highlands. I shall tell you all about it in the next post!
Posted on October 25, 2007 by Ash
For some time now I have been waiting to get hold of some nuts from a certain venerable sweet chestnut tree. I visited the tree in July and August, but the nuts where nowhere near ripe back then, and it appears that I totally jumped the gun! As I have been up in Edinburgh since the end of August, I have been unable to visit the sweet chestnut myself since then, so I have been sending my father on nut missions in my place. The tree has finally given up its fruits, and my father was there on the 20th of October (last Saturday) to collect a few for treeblog's second set of trees: Set B.
The chestnuts! These will be planted as part of treeblog Set B next year.
I collected these chestnuts from a tree at the University of Edinburgh's King's Buildings on the 15th of October. They will not be planted for treeblog... they will probably be roasted and eaten instead.
A few of my Edinburgh chestnuts, once removed from their spikey cupules. There are three nuts to a cupule, and the cupules tend to hang in pairs.
Posted on August 12, 2007 by Ash
Thinking ahead to next years' set of treeblog seedlings (Set B), I have already been out and collected two lots of seeds. Another species I want to grow for treeblog is the sweet (or Spanish) chestnut, Castanea sativa. My Collins Field Guide Trees of Britain & Northern Europe [2nd Ed.], by Alan Mitchell (1978, HarperCollinsPublishers) has this to say on the sweet chestnut's flowers and fruit:
Axillary bunches of cord-like catkins at end of June open whitish-yellow, 25-32 cm long, crowded with small male flowers each a mass of stamens, turn brown and fall in mid-July. Female flowers sometimes on small, separate spreading catkin, 5-6 cm long, 5-6 flowers; usually 1-2 at base of short, 10-12 cm catkin of unopened, yellowish rudimentary female or rarely male flowers, near tip of shoot. Female flower a 1 cm rosette of bright green, minutely hairy spines with a bunch of spreading, slender white styles. Fruit in bunches of 2-3, in light yellow-green 3 x 4 cm husk covered in sharp spines 1.5 cm long, radiating in clusters; interior white with silky, appressed hairs. Usually two nuts: one globose, the other smaller, concave; dark, shiny red-brown, narrowing to a tip bearing dead styles.
There is a huge, old sweet chestnut quite local to where I live, and it is the offspring of this tree that I wish to raise. I visited the tree on the 7th of July, earlier this year. However, the 'cord-like catkins' were not yet in flower.
Cord-like male catkins on the sweet chestnut (7th July 2007).
Close-up of the male catkins (not yet in bloom) (7th July 2007).
I visitied the sweet chestnut again a few days ago on the 8th of August, but was disappointed to find that the nuts were not yet ready for harvesting. In fact, the tree was still in flower, despite my Field Guide stating that the male flower-supporting catkins "turn brown and fall in mid-July". Perhaps the unusually wet weather this summer has affected the tree's phenology. treeblog will have to wait a little longer to get hold of some sweet chesntuts.
Cord-like male catkins in bloom on the sweet chestnut (9th August 2007).
Close-up of male catkins in bloom, with spiny female flowers in the foreground (9th August 2007).
Posted on June 20, 2007 by Ash
The first recorded occurrence of chestnut blight disease was in 1904 within the New York Zoological Gardens. Its subsequent rapid spread throughout the forests of eastern North America was an ecological disaster, whereby the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was reduced to an inconsequential component of the understorey, when once it had been the most important hardwood species in the eastern United States. The spread of the disease encompassed the entire natural range of C. dentata, with 3.6 million ha of the tree dead or dying in 1950. The disease was also discovered on the sweet chestnut (a.k.a. the Spanish chestnut) (Castanea sativa) in Italy in 1938, and spread throughout much of southern Europe. The disease is caused by Cryphonectria parasitica (formerly known as Endothia parasitica), which was unintentionally introduced on chestnut trees imported from East Asia. The economic, ecological, and social consequences of chestnut blight disease in North America were severe.
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