For day 97 of 365 Days Wild I decided to spend some time with the Sweet Chestnut tree that’s growing in the meadow. This is one of the young trees that was planted when the former square of farmland was first converted into a meadow five years ago. This is the first year that I’ve noticed it fruiting, which doesn’t happen until they’re around 25 years of age. These nuts, nowadays most well known as a Christmas treat, have been used in cooking since ancient times.
Sweet Chestnut trees (Castanea sativa) are thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans approximately 1700 years ago. The nuts are said to have been a major part of the Roman military diet, with soldiers being fed on a porridge made out of ground sweet chestnuts. The trees were planted wherever the empire spread, including the British Isles. The husks of sweet chestnuts have been found at the bottom of a Roman well at Great Holts Farm in Boreham, UK, and dated to the third or early fourth century AD. The Greek writer Theophrastus in his Inquiry into Plants from the 3rd century BC, mentioned the nourishing quality of the fruit… and the digestive issues it caused, though he mainly spoke of the use of the tree for timber and charcoal.
These trees can live for up to 1000 years, though 600 tends to be a more typical age. They’re classed as ‘ancient’ from 400 years onwards, and begin showing ancient characteristics from around 300 years of age. These characteristics include features such as a large girth, decay holes and crevices in the bark and under branches, damage to the trunk and bark loss, large amounts of dead wood in the canopy, fungal fruits from heart rotting species, epiphytic plants, and a high number of independent wildlife species. They can grow as tall as 35m when mature, and ancient Sweet Chestnut trees have been measured with trunk girths as great as 9m in diameter.
Ours is still little more than a baby! Needless to say, it doesn’t show any such characteristics.
If you’d like to know more about the Sweet Chestnut in you could check out some of these pages: