Almost Extinct

My sister was rummaging around in the neighbor’s backyard.

Why my sister was there I can’t say. The nearest neighbors are about half a mile up the road on top of a small hill. I haven’t been in their backyard for, oh, forty years when we used to buy corn (and freshly churned butter) from the old farmer who lived there.

Nevertheless, my sister was there.

She returned to say that she thought she’d found some paw-paws. Not what the Australians call paw-paw (which is a papaya), but Asimina triloba, the relative of the cherimoya.

The paw-paw is a plant which has been heading toward extinction for the last 10,000 years or so. They were dependent on North American megafauna to disperse their fruit, and when humans hunted the megafauna to extinction the paw-paw started to die out.

Now I’m a big fan of cherimoyas and would love to grow the US equivalent here, so we’ve tried planting them a number of times in the past few years and were glad to know that the neighbors had a thicket — we might steal a shoot in the spring.

So we all trooped down to look at them. The plants did indeed look like paw-paws with pinnate leaves that were lighter underneath than on top (not many leaves left at this time of year, but there were a few).

Across from the paw-paws were some trees that my sister had assumed were chestnut oaks (a common tree up here), but closer examination revealed that the seeds were not acorns. In fact they looked like chestnut seeds. Of course the American chestnut is essentially extinct ever since the blight took over in the early part of the last century, so this was clearly not that. A horse chestnut perhaps? (But a look at the tree book convinced us that was not the case). Chinese chestnut? My sister said the seed was wrong. Allegheny chinquapin seemed to be the answer. A small native relative of the American chestnut but one of which I’d never heard. Sadly, also subject to the blight, though not as severely.

Hmm. These trees do not seem blighted. Perhaps they are chinese after all? When I look at the tree book, the seeds look reasonable to me.  Also there are multiple seeds within the prickly casing which doesn’t happen in the chinquapin… Need to go back next year and look at the tree with leaves…

After further examination I think these trees must be Chinese and not a chinquapin, there’s just no sign of blight and the seeds are wrong for the chinquapin.

Ah well. My mother pointed out to me some old chestnut rootstock which still sends up 8 foot saplings before the blight strikes…


One Response to “Almost Extinct”

  1. terence sheridan sr Says:

    my mother passed November 1015. She had this tree with seeds in a very prickly outside like the one you posted. She said dad planted it. I have seeds and would like to know what it is called. She said it was a paw paw tree. Thank you

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