Thursday, October 27, 2011

Walking Among Giants

Standing adjacent to the rim of a cavern in Hocking county remains a enormous hull of a tree. Towering perhaps 60 feet above the forest floor, one feels the presence of this giant as if it were still a living being. Being dwarfed by its majesty, Jim Davidson gives scale to the remains. This American Chestnut, Castenea dentata, was undoubtedly a victim of the Chestnut blight which ravished trees from 1904-1940's forever changing the landscape of America.

Chestnut was a highly desirable species with excellent nut crop for wildlife and man alike. That Christmas song extolling the virtues of "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" was from those better days. Once the blight took hold, trees were dropped en mass for its valuable- and highly rot-resistant wood.

This hulking giant has stood a likely 40-50 years beyond its life, giving us a small insight to the majesty of these native trees. American Chestnuts, much taller than their Oriental counterparts, reached the heights of the forest canopy and bloomed in flowering creamy-white profusion -reportedly seen for miles and miles.

Its weather resistant properties remain its only recommendation today. Many public building were constructed by the C.C.C. from an effort to "harvest" all the timber before it wasted away. What if just two or three of those trees harvested might have carried a gene resistant to the blight? Would we have a living remnant of the species today?

The aging and weathering of the wood offers a beauty in its own right. Said to be "differential weathering"- that is, the softer wood wears away leaving ridges of the harder wood behind. It reminds one of the "skeltons" seen in out West, the form of past Saguaro cactus.

My guides on this forensic forestry expedition were no other than Paul Knoop and Jim Davidson, two of Ohio's deepest thinkers and natural history "giants" in their own right. No rock, leaf, bug or plant goes unexamined by these two. Their combined wealth of knowledge- and endless curiosity- make an afternoon walk feel like a priceless privilege.

Here, I can only hope to share a small portion of that information with you.

For the history of the American Chestnut click here.

For my long, past post on chestnut trees- click here


  1. very cool post, Cheryl! I've come across some skeletal trees in southeastern Ohio before that inferred Chestnut but nothing like that one! may I ask where you saw this beast at? I'd love to see it for myself!

  2. So my guess is that the blight wa brought in by an imported species????

  3. Hi Red-
    Yes, the blight was carried by the Oriental Chestnut- which is now being crossed with the American Chestnut to creat a new blight-resistant 15/16 part true American Chestnut. We wish them well on that- and hope someday the giant chestnuts will be seen across the land.
    > Andrew, this is on private land- so it is not easily seen. Probably wouldn't have persisted this long if it were a public land; it would have been timbered back in the day.

  4. Wow-- the size of that trunk is impressive. Jim Davidson really does provide a good scale!

    Your pictures remind me of the American chestnut's appearence in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. One of the dioramas I came to had American chestnut listed. I looked and looked and could not find it. So I referred to the legend. It turns out it was the dead tree in the background. : )

  5. Irony of ironies, I see hemlocks there. Soon to be extinct, too. Alas!