Hunting the Elusive Flowering Chestnut

by Christine Cadigan

After a day of testing the hypothesis suggested in A Needle in a Haystack, I think our geospatial predictor hypothesis for chestnut may have merit. Those of you who read the article will recall that we used soil type, road proximity, sun aspect and other criteria to hypothesize a prediction model for spotting native American chestnut sprouts from a car. To test the model, I drove around the western part of Litchfield County near Segar Mountain Road and Skiff Mountain Road, locations with a high incidence of “hot spots” according to the model. . How did it work? I found only one reproductive tree, but I certainly found numerous sprouts! The results of my adventure include some additional ideas for tweaking the model and also some advice on methodology.

My first mission was to explore the Segar Mountain Road area (rt. 341). This section showed up on the map with perhaps the most significant number of hotspots for likely chestnut territory. This, as many of you may know, is a rather busy road and attempting to study the roadsides was nearly impossible.

As soon as I pulled over and shut down my car, I noticed a little chestnut sprout staring straight up at me (almost mockingly, really).

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Photo courtesy of Christine Cadigan.

Slightly frustrated at my inability to spot chestnut trees (let alone identify the species of any tree), I immediately pulled off onto a small side street to get out my map and regroup. As soon as I pulled over and shut down my car, I noticed a little chestnut sprout staring straight up at me (almost mockingly, really). After exploring this area for a while, I eventually chose to turn down another, larger side street that had several “hotpots” on it as well. Turning right on Kenico, I made a huge loop through Gorham to end up back on Segar Mountain Road. Where the loop turns into Gorham is most definitely chestnut territory. It's a previously disturbed area in very early succession stages?prime chestnut location. I saw several sprouts on this street as well, though none were reproductively active.

Sometimes chestnut is easy to find – such as this example providing irrefutable evidence of a previous year's flowering.

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Photo courtesy of Christine Cadigan.

The lesson learned for wannabee chestnut hunters is, it is highly recommend recruit an assistant chestnut hunter. I suspect it is far easier to drive and search with two sets of eyes. Either way, if you've found a potentially great area that straddles a larger, well-trafficked road, I would advise ignoring the map and pulling off on the first side street. Small shoulders on busy roads would not only be difficult for spotting chestnut, but would create havoc for a pollination team with a bucket truck as well. When finding chestnut to pollinate, considering logistics simply makes good sense.

Next stop was Skiff Mountain Road – which leads to my next bit of advice. The potential hotspots displayed on the map certainly do not take all aspects of chestnut ecology into account. Skiff Mountain Road is a fairly narrow, relatively undisturbed road with mature growth and very dense stands. There is not a lot of light coming through and large hemlock forests seem to shade out the possibility of chestnut. I, therefore, did not find very many sprouts on this road. My advice is to keep in mind those important facts about chestnut ecology when using this map. Especially when time is off the essence, I might advise eliminating shady, narrow roads from your list.

Other factors making chestnut spotting easier: key in on sunny spots (chestnuts thrive off of release; not to mention, it's far easier to spot them with a little light), choose side streets that may be less traveled, and don't be afraid to pull over and park if you've spotted a single sprout (chances are, there's probably a few more around too).

Good Luck!

Christine M. Cadigan

Candidate for Master of Environmental Management and Master of Forestry 2010

Nicholas School of the Environment

Duke University

Summer Intern – CT Chapter TACF

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks. -John Muir

[click to expand photo]
Photo courtesy of Christine Cadigan.

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Bill Adamsen

Bill Adamsen

Bill Adamsen is a member of the CT Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) Board of Directors. He served as Chapter President for eight years.

Bill Adamsen

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