Is your property, or one that you manage, able to support a thriving Castanea dentata (American chestnut) habitat? Castanea dentata is native to Eastern North America and is capable of growing to reasonably large sizes, up to 50′ or more, if planted in an appropriate location. But how can one determine if they have an appropriate location? State plant atlases and websites provide scant and even conflicting information about core Castanea dentata habitat. For example:
“Typical habitats include rich mesic woodlands, rocky upland woodlands, and wooded clay hills. These areas are dominated by either deciduous trees or a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees” is provided by Illinois Wildflowers
“Woodland garden canopy” is provided by Plants for a Future (https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Castanea+dentata) (https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/tree_index.htm#am_chestnut)
“This species was once a co-dominant in upland forests in southeastern Lower Michigan, now existing as rare scattered individuals and persistent stump sprouts that eventually succumb to the chestnut blight, which remains present in secondary hosts. While numerous specimens and stands have been planted across the state, only naturally growing trees in its native range (southern Lower Michigan) are usually tracked” is provided by Michigan Natural Features Inventory (https://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/species/description/14214/Castanea-dentata)
“Native Habitat: Moist upland soils in mixed forests” provided by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=cade12)
Let’s go a little deeper. One of the best ways to determine if you have core Castanea dentata habitat is to look for the other plants that are normally found as associate species, therein.
First, let’s define core Castanea dentata habitat as those ecological zones that continue to support active populations in the Northeast (Connecticut to Virginia). These are areas where American chestnut still grows in relative abundance and large enough to produce viable fruit. These Castanea dentata habitats share many common attributes, including pH, water holding capacity, soil composition, and the other plants that grow nearby. It’s the plants that grow nearby that provide the easiest means of identifying Castanea dentata habitat, because it doesn’t require taking a soil sample.
Castenea dentata habitat associates
This is a list of native plant species that we almost always find growing in core Castanea dentata habitat. If these plants are present in abundance at a particular site, we consider that site capable of supporting American chestnut. This doesn’t mean that Castanea dentata cannot be grown in other places, it can, but probably not as successfully.
This list was produced on January 24, 2021 from thirteen different Castanea dentata habitat sites. The downloadable list will be updated with new data as it becomes available. The following is an excerpt from a list produced by the ArcheWild GPS LOG app, which we use to document plant communities throughout the eastern United States.
If you have a sizable American chestnut population on your land and would like to have it documented, please write firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Acer saccharinum (sugar maple)
- Amianthium muscitoxicum (fly poison)
- Aralia nudicaulis (wild sasparilla)
- Baptisia tinctoria (horseflyweed)
- Betula populifolia (grey birch)
- Comptonia peregrina (sweetfern)
- Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry)
- Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)
- Ilex montana (mountain holly)
- Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel)
- Oclemena acuminata (whorled wood aster)
- Prenanthes trifoliolata (gall of the earth)
- Pteridium aquilinum (bracken fern)
- Quercus alba (white oak)
- Quercus ilicifolia (bear oak)
- Quercus montana (chestnut oak or rock oak)
- Rhododendron periclymenoides (pinxterbloom)
- Rubus allegheniensis (Allegheny blackberry)
- Solidago bicolor (white goldenrod)
- Vaccinium angustifolium (lowbush blueberry)
- Vaccinium stamineum (deerberry)
- Viburnum acerifolium (mapleleaf viburnum)
Castanea dentata chestnut habitat