American Chestnut historical dimensions

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#1)  American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby edfrank » Sun Dec 16, 2012 3:24 pm

NTS,

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
http://www.journal-news.net/page/content.detail/id/588083/Volunteers-aim-to-revive--redwood-of-the-East---the-American-chestnut-tree.html?nav=5004

"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.
Image
"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.


Eric Morgan:

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.


Edward Frank:  
They got really fat, but none of the historical accounts I have read ever indicated that they grew very tall.



Eric Morgan:  
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?



Edward Frank:  
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).


               
                       
chestnut.JPG
                                               
chestnut.JPG (35.88 KiB) Viewed 1136 times
               
               

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.)


Eric Morgan:
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.


Eric Morgan:  
The best picture I could find was this one. Any thoughts on its legitimacy?
http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/chestnut/images/chestnut/historical/AncientChestnut_800px.jpg
Image


Edward Frank:  
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.



Edward Frank:  
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: Image of a redwood in Humbolt County, CA
http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/09/05/article-0-14D600AA000005DC-582_964x762.jpg
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2198481/Magical-photos-lumberjacks-California-redwoods.html



Edward Frank:  
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:
               
                       
joyceKilmerForestTree.jpg
                                               
joyceKilmerForestTree.jpg (49.88 KiB) Viewed 1136 times
               
               

Forest Habit:  Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, 1910, Forest History Society
Before the blight: Historic American chestnut images - Massachusetts Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation


.
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#2)  Re: American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby Will Blozan » Sun Dec 16, 2012 7:24 pm

Ed,

Here we go again debating the dimensions of a tree we will never know... And yes, the photo is a redwood. As for redwood of the east that is a weird comparison in that they have no similarities at all other than big. Eastern hemlock would rightfully claim that description being a conifer and evergreen...

Baldcypress and tuliptree would have been much larger than chestnut based on what we know from forensic evidence (as would live oak). Wm Ashe took photos of chestnuts that were exceptional and they are indeed impressive but not larger than any other eastern tree as far as superlatives go. Tuliptree, with its cylindrical trunk and extreme height would have smoked chestnut whenever given the chance. Stem form of extant rampics and fallen specimens, and photos of chestnuts pre-blight do not indicate a cylindrical bole or much of a departure from a neloid form. This does not bode well for claims to the biggest tree in the east. By sheer trunk diameter at a given height, sure, but wood volume no- at least in my opinion. Tuliptree, live oak and bald cypress would top the list, with sycamore and perhaps northern red oak even topping chestnut.

Of course my opionion is based on skant evidence so it is what it is. But for deciduous, non-conifer trees- tuliptree gets my vote as all-time largest eastern tree. Try as they might- with bogus photos even- a neloid or conic trunk will never, ever match a cylinder. Simple math people.

Will

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#3)  Re: American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby ElijahW » Sun Dec 16, 2012 7:50 pm

Will Blozan wrote:Of course my opionion is based on skant evidence so it is what it is. But for deciduous, non-conifer trees- tuliptree gets my vote as all-time largest eastern tree. Try as they might- with bogus photos even- a neloid or conic trunk will never, ever match a cylinder. Simple math people.

Will


Amen and amen.  

Will, just curious:  With all the work you've done on and around hemlocks, do you think you've witnessed that species's maximum dimensions, or would you guess that they grew larger in the past?  You've probably discussed this before, but I'm generally lazy tonight and don't intend to look it up.  

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#4)  Re: American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby Will Blozan » Sun Dec 16, 2012 9:21 pm

Elijah,

Great question. Based on the work Jess Riddle and I did in the Tsuga Search Project, I think we have come very, very close to establishing the maxima of Tsuga canadensis. The TDI scores of the four biggest trees for girth, height, and volume are over 91% of known maxima. The largest tree scored 96% so it was as close to the largest obtainable as we could determine. As for the largest tree- it was never climbed... Here is a shot of Carl Harting taken with the tree in 2008 in the Cataloochee Valley of GRSM. I was not able to return to the tree to document it but based on the dimensions I could take-no known hemlock had greater trunk dimensions than this tree... period. It is now a crumbling mass of debris due to HWA. Probably surpassed 1,700 cubic feet; trunk only.
               
                       
McKee Monster with Carl 500.jpg
                       
McKee Branch Monster
               
               

               
                       
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Carl at base 16'10" @ 8' with NO TAPER!!!
               
               

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#5)  Re: American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby Rand » Sun Dec 16, 2012 9:31 pm

I always assumed the 'redwood of the east' moniker was a reference to the decay resistance of the wood.
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#6)  Re: American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby Will Blozan » Sun Dec 16, 2012 9:35 pm

Rand,

Than why not Catalpa, smoketree, red mulberry, and black locust?

;)

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#7)  Re: American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby Rand » Sun Dec 16, 2012 9:49 pm

Will Blozan wrote:Rand,

Than why not Catalpa, smoketree, red mulberry, and black locust?

;)

Will


Erhm.. it's not in general, timber quality decay resistant wood?

Or failing that, you could try wiping one out with a foreign pathogen and try to increase its sex appeal that way...  ;)
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#8)  Re: American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby ElijahW » Sun Dec 16, 2012 9:59 pm

Thanks, Will.  Cataloochee was my first taste of the Smokies, and other than the seemingly impenetrable clusters of rhododendron (new to a Yankee), the greatest impression I left with was that a lot of special trees were dying.  The tulip trees were impressive, as were the white pines; but the hemlocks were in a class of their own.  

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#9)  Re: American Chestnut historical dimensions

Postby edfrank » Sun Dec 16, 2012 10:19 pm

Will Blozan wrote:Ed,Here we go again debating the dimensions of a tree we will never know... And yes, the photo is a redwood. As for redwood of the east that is a weird comparison in that they have no similarities at all other than big. Eastern hemlock would rightfully claim that description being a conifer and evergreen...


Sometimes it is worth rehashing some of these older debates to see if there is anything new to add, and to bring it to the attention of newer members who missed any previous discussions on the issue.  Eric Morgan was a case in point.  Not only did he have a photo from the USFS archive incorrectly listing the tree depicted as a chestnut, he had a specific reference to a tree larger in diameter than I mentioned in my original reply with an author and date for the reference.  So he did some homework before posting.  This post also gives us a new chance to summarize the information that has been posted here and there int a more cohesive and focused thread.  Thanks for the confirmation of redwood.  That is certainly what jumped out at me when I looked at the image. The redwood analogy was according to Eric: "Redwood of the East was made up by a founding member of TACF as a PR campaign."  which seems a reasonable explanation.

Most of the references to "Redwood of the East" I found relate to what likely was a press release touting the efforts in the first post.   The actual oldest I have been able to find is:  "The Redwood of the East"  By David W. Wooddell,  ver. 2 - Mon, Feb 11, 2008 http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/geopedia/The_American_Chestnut#The%20Redwood%20of%20the%20East
"Many 18th- and 19th-century log cabins were made of old-growth chestnut logs and still stand today as a testament to the durability of the wood. The chestnut was so useful that some people called it the redwood of the East."

Ed
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