Paul Meyer shares his gratitude for the Conservancy, and for Chestnut Hill’s borrowed landscapes–our neighbors’ beautiful gardens and green spaces that we can all enjoy on our walks (or drives) around the area.
Today is the final day of our Special Appeal, and we are just a few new members away from meeting our membership goal for this fiscal year! Please join Paul, and all of our community champions, as a member of the Conservancy to sustain our common ground for years to come.
Morris Arboretum’s Retired F. Otto Haas Executive Director
They Don’t Call It Chestnut Hill For Nothin’
The namesake of Chestnut Hill, Castanea dentata, was once a dominant tree throughout much of Eastern North America including the Wissahickon Valley. These trees have been almost completely destroyed by a fungal disease accidentally introduced in 1904. In its day, the American chestnut was a tall stately tree, important to the timber industry, wildlife and the entire forest ecosystem. Today, only a few (usually small) American Chestnut trees remain, usually resulting from root sprouts of deceased trees.
Mature chestnut trees growing in Chestnut Hill today, are likely the disease resistant Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima). These are not as tall as their American cousin, and often branch relatively low to the ground, forming a broad spreading crown. The prolific sweet scented flowers appear in late June, followed by tasty chestnuts in the autumn.
In recent years potentially disease resistant strains and hybrids of American and Chinese chestnut, have been planted in Pastorius Park, SCH Academy and the Morris Arboretum. Through multiple generations of backcrossing, the genetic makeup of the hybrids is mostly American chestnut, but they have enough Chinese genetic heritage to confer a high level of resistance to the blight. This breeding work has been spearheaded by the American Chestnut Foundation.
Recently, using new technologies, disease resistant genetically modified American Chestnuts have been created and are being evaluated. These programs offer hope that American chestnut can someday regain its role in North American forests and as an urban tree in the community of Chestnut Hill.
Paul W. Meyer,
The F. Otto Haas Director, Retired
Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania
Photos: Top -A fine, mature specimen of Chinese Chestnut growing along the entrance drive of the Morris Arboretum. Note the low branching habit and the broad, spreading crown.
Botton – This magnificent specimen stood (photo c. 1910) in front of the Palm House at what became the Morris Arboretum. The fernery is beside this site today. The chestnut blight rapidly devastated the species, and by 1920 most of these giants were dead or were dying. Courtesy of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy Archives.