American Chestnuts In Kentucky
Can you grow American Chestnuts in the Urban Forest?
Will American chestnut adapt to Urban soils?
How should American chestnuts be used in Urban settings?
Where can I see the form and features American chestnut adds to the landscape?
When we think of any native nut tree, like oak, hickory, beech, pecan, black walnut, buckeyes and American chestnut, we need to anticipate certain issues in urban settings — the characteristics, and size and hardness of nuts being one of them. Black walnut is an example of a tree that is “black-listed” on most lists of easement trees because the nuts are large, heavy (denting cars), sometimes prolific, and can cause staining. Some nut trees do not make good street easement trees — except for oaks, which are widely planted, despite acorns ! We also have planted sweetgums extensively, despite “gum balls” that last for years.
The American chestnut has several notable characteristics to consider in the Urban Forest:
- It grows rapidly, somewhat like Tulip Poplar, being taller than it is wide, and will be a big tree. It has excellent wind-throw resistance and a strong central trunk. It retains its leaves when young, but has a yellow fall color.
- It has very sharp burs with silica (like glass) in the spines. It used to be a favorite joke to tell younger toddler brothers and sisters that the burs were “porcupine eggs”. Not ideal over the driveway, or in a small front yard !
- It is the favorite food — both leaves and nuts — of every forest creature, and therefore attracts wildlife. It requires special protection when young where deer and rabbits are common.
- To get nuts, you need two trees that are unrelated, since the trees are self-infertile. Unpollinated nuts come from burs that are just as large, but the nut is shriveled and lacks the tasty kernel. Trees need to be relatively close to cross pollinate each other, not streets apart.
Chestnutting was an important urban recreational event every fall for families, in urban, suburban and rural settings, and chestnut groves in park settings will allow people to experience chestnut stuffing again for holidays.
The first chestnut grove planting at Jefferson Memorial Forest, started from nuts in 2011. Notice the solar electric fence — seedlings were browsed immediately.
The Louisville Metro Parks has recently signed an agreement with the American Chestnut Foundation, which will allow for planting of Restoration 1.0 chestnuts. These advanced hybrids have been bred to have high levels of blight resistance. These trees are being tested in the initial phase, and KY-TACF is exploring planting at a number of city sites, like the Louisville Nature Center. Please contact us to suggest sites where you would like to see chestnuts groves. If you interested in obtaining the Restoration chestnuts for private planting, go to the National American Chestnut website at www.acf.org. They are available in limited numbers for sponsorship donors.
American chestnut on the left is in Seneca Gardens in a private front yard and grew to 23 foot tall in 5 years. (It was a bare root seedling in 2006 nursed along by Michael Hayman, Seneca Gardens Arborist, and then transplanted to this site.)
The tree on the right was planted in 2008 as a nut along the easement of Cardinal Drive next to the Audubon Park Golf Course. It is a survivor of a rows of trees, several of which died in the ice storm of 2009, when a large maple came down. The tree is adjacent to an older maple site, where roots are still rotting.
Jefferson Memorial Forest
The Jefferson Memorial Site is a smaller planting, designed to create a naturalized habitat site, and is a mixed planting, including some Northern Red Oak. It is testing soils in the Blevins Gap area. It was started in a very wet year, when several other plantings “drowned” and nuts were all killed. But this planting has sufficient drainage to thrive.