Not “horse-chestnuts”!—American chestnuts disappeared from Maine’s forest so long ago that very few people alive today ever knew them. The only “chestnuts” that most people know are “horse-chestnuts”, which are not really chestnuts, but rather a “buckeye”. Horse-chestnuts are not related to American chestnuts, are native to Europe, they are commonly planted in Maine towns, they bloom large clusters of sweetly fragrant white flowers in spring, they have a single large inedible nut inside a prickly husk, and the wood is not valuable.
American chestnuts are native to forests of eastern US, bloom in July, have three sweet nuts inside very needly burs (like a sea urchin), and their wood is straight, rot-resistant, and has many valuable applications.
One of the Maine Chapter’s first priorities upon formation was to catalog all of the remaining native chestnut trees in Maine, and then preserve genes from as many of these as possible by collecting seeds or grafting. As raw material for our inventory we had a list of about 100 trees collected by Doug Stark during his career with the Maine Forest Service, most of which had not been observed or updated since about 1980. After 15 years, our list has grown to over 200 locations. Every year we learn that some of these have died and some new ones are reported.
The Maine Chapter’s very own Roger Willby has researched the pre-blight extent of American chestnut trees in Maine, and has written this informative article on the topic, complete with maps. Click here to read more.
In order to have a safe repository for the remaining chestnut genes in Maine, we established a partnership with Viles Arboretum in Augusta (formerly Pine Tree State Arboretum). The Viles Chestnut Collection (click here to find out more) has over 100 chestnut trees grown from seed that the Maine Chapter has collected from several dozen of the remaining productive chestnuts in Maine.