A century after an imported pathogenic fungus from Asia decimated billions of American chestnut (Castanea dentata) trees in the eastern United States, what remains of these once magnificent organisms are the small sprouts, easily found in forests if you keep an eye out for the distinctive toothed leaves (hence, C. dentata). These sapling-sized trees grow some ten to twenty feet tall, usually without much flowering, and then succumb inevitably to disease, only to renew the suckering operation all over again.

American Chestnuts in Flower by Ned Friedman

Although far from majestic (rather, it is a fairly inelegant multi-stemmed set of gangly shoots), one of the Arnold Arboretum’s American chestnut trees is putting on a good flower show this year. The long catkins of pollen-producing flowers (upper image, one catkin; 24-80*A) make for a spectacular display. The female inflorescences are less numerous and less showy (lower left; 24-80*A ), but a careful look will reveal several inflorescences on this individual (at eye level), each containing three female flowers. However, the flowers remain hidden inside a green involucre of bracts. Only a wonderful white cluster of stigmas emerges at the top to capture the pollen.

Don’t forget to return to this tree in October to see the mature super spiny infructescences (lower right; 24-80*A), each of which will split to reveal three beautiful nuts (one from each flower) inside. From whence the spines of the mature infructescence? Scoot over every week or two and find out.

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