Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

February 24, 2013


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:13 am


One of my favorite nuts has always been the chinquapin because of its nutty and sweet flavor.  In the late 1940s my aunt Floy Richards had a large chinquapin tree in her back pasture.  During the early fall, around  September, I made routine visits to her tree so that I could accumulate a week’s supply of these acorn-looking nuts.  The chinquapin is a first cousin of the chestnut tree, though differing in having hairy leaves and twigs and single-seeded burs. It is much smaller than the chestnut.

It was fun to go to school with a pocket full of chinquapins to snack on during the school day.  They were even sold in the Piggly Wiggly store at times, so that getting them directly off the tree was unnecessary.  There seemed to be an abundance of chinquapin trees throughout the county.  Some of the trees grew to a height of 40 feet or more.

However, after many years have passed it seems that the chinquapin is no longer seen around East Texas.  I have looked for a tree but have found none.  The large tree in Aunt Floy’s back pasture died many years ago.  There were both a persimmon tree and a chinquapin tree across the road from the Antioch Church of Christ on highway 147 north, but neither is still there.  So, what has happened to all the chinquapin trees that were so abundant years ago?

It seems that the culprit was a fungal infection, the Chestnut blight, which was accidently introduced to North America around 1900, probably on imported Japanese chestnut nursery stock.  By 1940 most mature American chestnut trees had been wiped out by the disease.  Since the Chinquapin was such a close relative of the chestnut, it was also infected.  Within forty years most of the chestnut/chinquapin population of North America was devastated, with only a few clumps of trees remaining in California.  Because of the disease American chestnut wood almost disappeared from the market for decades.

The fungi were transmitted through the air and seemed to find a damaged spot on a tree so that they could invade the tree.  Cankers caused by the fungal infection caused the bark to split and the disease to spread.  Over a period of four to five years the infected tree would die.  For those of you who are into botany, the fungi is called “Cryphonectria Parasitica”, so named by the mycologist William Murrill who isolated and described the fungus in 1905.

All is not lost for the chinquapin lover.  The chinquapin tree can still be purchased from on-line nurseries for around $25.00 per tree.  They will produce their fruit within four or five years of planting.  I am considering purchasing a couple of young trees to plant in my back yard.  I might not be around to enjoy the nuts but I am sure that my ancestors will, and I just know that they will thank me for having the foresight to keep the chinquapin tree from becoming extinct.

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