There has been an interesting back and forth concerning the size reached by American chestnuts prior to their decimation by the blight in the mid 1900's on our Facebook page. The discussion started with this post:
Volunteers aim to revive ‘redwood of the East,’ the American chestnut tree
"My mother's family never stopped grieving for the (American) chestnuts," the 51-year-old software engineer and father of two said as a stiff breeze rustled through the 110 or so surviving trees, many already bearing angry, orange-black cankers around the inoculation sites.
"Her generation viewed chestnuts as paradise lost." Hurst hopes the trees on his hillside farm - part of a vast experiment in forest plots where this "linchpin" species thrived before the onslaught of an imported parasite - might hold the key to regaining that Eden.
James Robert Smith:
I've never heard anyone call the American chestnut the "redwood of the east". I have heard that term for the Eastern hemlock. The American chestnut was a unique tree. You can't really compare its niche in the Appalachian ecosystem to any tree anywhere else.
From what I've read the term Redwood of the East was made up by a founding member of TACF as a PR campaign. There is merit to that name: few trees, if any, can get larger than a mature chestnut in the eastern US.
They got really fat, but none of the historical accounts I have read ever indicated that they grew very tall.
From what I've read an American Chestnut could get to be about 800 points. Are there any other trees in the eastern US in that range? Cottonwoods maybe?
I don't think they ever reached 800 points. The AF formula is height (feet) + girth (inches) + 0.25 spread (feet). Say it was 15 feet in diameter = 565 points + spread 240 feet = 60 points. These are fatter than any tree now existing in the east, fatter than the largest live oak, fatter than the biggest bald cypress and much bigger than the biggest spread known, the tree would still need to be 175 feet tall to reach those point totals. I see photos labeled 20 foot diameter chestnut. Maybe at ground level they might be bigger than 15, but unless the people in the photos are 12 feet tall at 4.5 feet they aren't much more than 10 feet in girth. Could they have been bigger? Yes, but I have been searching historical records for accounts of big trees and have not found any contemporaneous numbers indicating they ever reach greater than 10 feet in diameter and 120 feet or so in height. Some of these exceptional diameters may be from transposing girth as diameter. I don't believe hey ever reached 800 points. I would be surprised if they reached more than 600 or 650 at the outside. The most comparable species would be live oaks at max 11 foot girth, 180 foot spread, and maybe 100 feet tall. (they are taller in forest settings, but do not get as fat or have as great of a spread in forest settings).
Historical photo of a large American Chestnut from the Great Smokey Mountains of TN and NC. It is often labeled as a 20 foot diameter chestnut, but unless the people in the photo are 12 feet tall the tree is just slightly over 10 feet in diameter at 4.5 feet and that is being generous with the pixels. (Bark would add girth and a little to the diameter, but in fairness my best estimate of the diameter of the barkless tree as it is show is 7.5 feet. So 10 feet at most is being really really generous.)
Interesting. I have read one account (not the primary source which is listed as Detwiler 1915) of the largest recorded American Chestnut, said to be 17 ft in diameter. That would put it at 650 points nominally without ht and spread. Probably not a common occurrence though. However, people didn't measure trees back then either.
The best picture I could find was this one. Any thoughts on its legitimacy?
There is a reprint of the Detwiler article here: http://www.chattoogariver.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/02-01_Winter.pdf on page 7. It does say 17 feet, but I am not sure if the diameter was taken at ground level or at breast height, or if the tree was a multitrunk specimen. I will look for a photo of the tree, but it is my guess the diameter was at ground level which was common then. If it is legitimate, then you are right. I am looking to see if the actual original article is online somewhere, or if there is a photo of that particular tree.
Thoughts about the photo. I really don't think it is an American Chestnut. The chestnut had almost like large diamond patterns to its bark. I really think this is a redwood photo that was mislabeled and passed around as chestnut. Compare the image above to this one: of a redwood in Humbolt County, CA
At the bottom of this page is a photo of a large chestnut from Joyce Kilmer: http://masschestnut.org/beforeBlight.php This shows the bark pattern. There is someone in the photo, but they are standing well behind the tree in the foreground in front of another tree, so the tree appears larger than it really is:
Forest Habit: Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, 1910, Forest History Society
Before the blight: Historic American chestnut images - Massachusetts Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation