Edible Sweet Chestnut tree - Castanea Sativa

The Sweet Chestnut is the tree that edible Chestnuts come from. The species name is "Castanea Sativa" and it is a tree that is native to Southern Europe. This tree should not be confused with the Common Horse Chestnut which has a similar shaped "fruit" that is NOT edible. The images in this blog post were taken at a very large Sweet Chestnut tree in Southern Spain that is called the "Castaño Santo de Istan". In the fourth image down in this post there is a picture of my son in the tree that gives an idea of its size.

The leaves of the Sweet Chestnut are elliptical with serrate margins and pinnate venation. They measure about 5-7 inches long and about 2-3 inches wide. The edible part of the chestnut is enclosed in a "porky pine like" casing that splits open when mature revealing the nut inside.

The tree above is the largest Sweet Chestnut that I have seen. It´s trunk is 46 feet in circumference at the base. It is estimated to be between 800 and 1,000 years old.

The bark of the Castinea sative can be quite different depending on the maturity of the branch or trunk. The image above contrasts the very young bark and very mature bark.

Every winter in Spain, usually around Christmas, it is common to come across street vendors, like the one below, that roast fresh Chestnuts and sell them. The Chestnuts are roasted barbecue style in a drum over hot coals. The sweet, nutty smell of the roasting Chestnuts fills the cool air and is almost irresistible to the passerby.

Where does cork come from?

Have you ever wondered where cork comes from? It comes from the bark of the "Cork Oak tree" (tree species name - Quercus suber). The cork bark of this species of oak tree (yes it does produce acorns) can grow to become two to three inches thick. Normally however it is harvested when it is about one or one and a half inches thick. In the image above you can see several different layers of the bark, the result of being harvested several times.
Only the bark on the main trunk and lower branches is harvested using special tools that peel off large sections of the outer bark without damaging the tree. What is left is the dark inner bark that you can see on the tree below. The bark takes about 7-10 years to grow back to a thickness that can be harvested again.
The picture below is a piece of the cork bark that I found laying on the ground. This particular piece was almost two inches thick. One curious thing that I have found with the bark of this oak tree species is its seeming resistance to rotting. I have often found sections of branches laying on the ground where the wood has rotted away leaving a "tube" of bark that does not seem to have rotted at all.
One interesting use for cork bark in Spain is in the tradition of making nativity sets. In almost all nativity sets you will see sections of this bark used to make the homes or stable or even caves. Keep in mind that in Spain nativity sets tend to be very elaborate and large "model villages" with Bethlehem, Roman forts and the countryside represented.

Cork Oak Tree - Quercus suber

The Cork Oak tree is native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa and since I live in Spain I have seen a great many of these trees. The pictures from todays post were taken while on a hike to find the "Castaño Santo de Istán" (the Sacred Chestnut of Istan - a tree that is quite famous locally). Our adventure started in the coastal town of "San Pedro de Alcantara" which is just west of the city of "Marbella" on the Spanish Sun Coast. We took a very rugged dirt and rock road that started near a local golf course. After driving for about five miles we parked the car and proceeded on foot towards the renowned tree. On the way however we discovered that the area was mostly populated with Cork Oak trees much like the one in the image above.

Virtually all of the Cork trees had had their "cork" bark harvested at some point which left them with a blackish bark up the main trunk and up to about 12-15 feet off the ground. In my next post I will go into greater detail about the bark of this interesting tree.

One interesting event of this hike happened when I ventured into the stand of Quercus suber above. I was observing the ground that was all rooted up and decided to take a picture. Well just as the camera went click I heard a grunting noise and saw a large black pig out of the corner of my eye just as it dashed into a thicket. This pig and its herd were the ones responsible for the upturned grounded that I had been observing. The reason for this is that they live mainly on the acorns of this and similar Quercus (Oak) tree species. Later when I got home and took a close look at the picture I had taken I discovered that the pig had gotten into the image (the picture below is an amplification of the the bottom right corner of the image above.

After that little incident I rejoined my family who was picnicking in the shade of the "Sacred Chestnut" (the locals call it the grandfather of the forest). The image below is a Cork oak on the left and the Sacred Chestnut on the right. It does not look too huge in this picture but this tree is about 20 feet across!!

The image below is of the bark on a tree that has not had its cork harvested. In Spanish this tree goes by the name "Alcornoque" and a stand of them is called an "Alcornocal". The word for the cork is "corcho".
Some other trees similar to this are the "English Oak" and the "Holm Oak". One tree that is planted in southern Spain and goes by the name Oak although it is not a member of the Quercus genus is the "Australian Silver Oak".

Carob tree - Ceratonia siliqua

The Carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) is best known for its edible seeds that are used, among other things, as a chocolate substitute. It is a tree that grows well in dry climates, which would explain its relative abundance in Southern Spain were the Carob tree and the Holm Oak can be found on most "fincas" (small farms or country houses). The images I have used in this post are from several trees not far from my home.

The leaves of the Carob tree are even-pinnately compound with the individual leaflets being slightly oblong with a round base and about two inches in length. The venation is pinnate.
The seedpods of the Carob tree look a lot like green-beans. Before they turn ripe they are bright, shinny green and measure about 5-7 inches in length. When ripe they darken to almost pure black and become somewhat withered. The seed pods hand in small clusters from the primary and secondary branches and I have even seen them growing right out of the main trunk. Judging by what I have seen the clusters can contain from two to seven seed pods.

The image below shows the edible carob seeds in a ripe seed pods that I carefully opened up. These seeds can be eaten right out of the seed pop or can be used to make a number of things such as a chocolate substitute, flower, molasses, alcohol, etc. Many of these products are made from ceratonia (also known as locust bean gum or Carob bean gum).

One interesting thing about the tree itself is its highly gnarled trunk when it get old. Near where I live most of the Carob trees have super gnarled trunks like the image below. Once while out on a hike I came across one with a large broken branch that left the wood exposed. I was suprised by how red the wood was. Later a local man told me that this tree is used by local wood workers and carvers to make stair rails, small furniture and carvings.

Ginkgo petrified forest - Vantage Washington

While driving across Washington State recently I came across a sign that read "Ginkgo Petrified Forest - Next Exit". Seeing as I was in the most barren, dry and otherwise rather unbecoming area of the state you can imagine how the sign caught my eye. I had a bit of time to kill so I decided to take the exit and check out this "Petrified Forest" at Vantage Washington. I was interested not only in the "petrified" part but also in the "Ginkgo" part. I have profiled the Ginkgo tree and I was rather curious to see a petrified forest of them. (Ginkgos are a very rare species of tree that are only found growing wild in a small area of China. )

About three miles of the freeway I came across the "interpretive trail". Still no trees in sight, not even logs or any evidence of a "petrified forest", just Sagebrush and rocky (Basalt) ground as far as the eye could see. Camera in hand I started to make the circuit around the interpretive trail. The first four pictures in this post were taken as I walked along the trail.

As it turned out the "Petrified forest" was embedded in a layer of Basalt and only a few of the logs of have been exposed by erosion (these are rather large, complete logs I must add). These could be viewed along the trail although they are protected by some metal grates set in concrete. I guess they don´t want people to chip off pieces of the logs. The logs themselves are very impressive although they are not Ginkgo logs, except for ONE!. Along the path there are Spruce, Elm, Sequoia, Maple, Walnut and the one famous Ginkgo that gave the buried petrified forest its name.

The cross section below as well as the fully exposed log are found at the Ginkgo Gem Shop that is located near the interpretive center. This "rock" shop has a great collection of petrified wood and fossils from the local area as well as from all around the word.

Persian Silk Tree - Albizia julibrissin

The Persian Silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) is a small tree native to a broad region that extends from Iran all the way to Japan. This trees name comes from its delicate and colorful flowers that look like little puff balls.

I´m not sure how large this tree species can grow but all the trees that I have seen (it is a very commonly planted tree in Spain) have been on the small side not more than 10-12 feet tall. This makes it an ideal tree for gardens as an ornamental tree.

The leaves of the Persian Silk tree (sometimes just called "silktree") are bipinnately compound and have a close resemblance to many acacias although they are not related at all. At night these leaves relax and fold up as if they were sleeping only to spread back out when the sunlight returns.

The seed pods of this tree species are so thin that they are translucent allowing one to make out the silhouette of the seeds on the inside. They are a tan color and are about 3-4 inches in length. They are normally flat but on occasion you can find ones that are twisted in a spiral fassion.

A tree with similar leaves the the Silktree is the Blue Jacaranda
A tree with similar flowers is the White Popinac tree
Another small ornamental tree is the Weeping Bottlebrush tree
If you like this tree you might also like the Persian Lilac Tree

Other trees with "silk" in their names are the Silk Floss and the White Silk Floss Tree
For the complete index of trees in this blog - Tree index by common name

Complete index of trees profiled

The following is a list of all the trees that I have profiled to date. I update this post each time I add a new tree so don´t give too much credence to the date. I have listed the trees by their common names in alphabetical order and each name is also a link to the post about that tree species. Each post consists of a series of images that will help identify the tree as well as some observations that I have made about the tree and the location where the pictures were taken.

African Tulip tree
Aleppo pine
Atlas Cedar
Australian silver-oak
Avocado tree
Banyan trees
Blue Jacaranda
Bottlebrush tree
Boxelder Maple
Bunya Bunya
Bush Kurrajong
Canary Island Palm
Canary Island Pine
Carob tree
Cedar of Lebanon
Ceiba pubiflora
Cherry Blossoms
Chinese fan palm
Coastal Redwood
Cockspur Coral tree
Common Horse Chestnut
Cork Oak
Council tree (Ficus Altissima)
Date Palm
Dragon´s blood tree
Edible Fig (Ficus Carica)
Empress of China
Eucalyptus torquata
European Yew
European redbud
False Aralia
Ficus benjamina
Fiddle leaf fig
Field Elm
Flame tree leaves
Giant Sequoia
Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo Petrified Forest
Himalayan Cedar
Holm Oak
Hong Kong Orchid tree
Huge Cedar Stump
Illawara Flame tree
Indian Bean tree
Kafferboom Coral tree
Lacebark Kurrajong
Little Kurrajong
Legend of the Ceibo
Madagascar palm
Malabar Chestnut
Mexican Blue Palm
Monkey puzzle tree
Montpellier Maple
Norfolk Island Pine
Norfolk vs. Cook Pine
Olive tree
Pecan tree
Pedunculate oak
Persian lilac
Persian Silk tree
Pine nuts
Ponderosa Pine
Ponytail Palm
Portuguese Oak
Purple Orchid tree
Rosewood - Tipuana tipu
Rubber tree
Sacred Chestnut
Sacred Fig
Southern Magnolia
Saucer magnolia
Schefflera Arboricola
Silk Floss Tree
Snowflake aralia
Spanish Fir
Strawberry tree
Sweet Chestnut
Umbrella tree
Weeping Bottlebrush tree
Weeping Willow
Western Redcedar
Where does cork come from?
White popinac tree
White Bird of Paradise
White Silk Floss tree
Yakusugi Cedar

Here are a few other sites where I have posted more images and information about trees...
Palm Tree Species
Bonsai Species
Evergreen Species
Ten Thousand Trees

Canary Island Date Palm - Phoenix canariensis

The Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) is quite similar to the True Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) except that its trunk is thicker, its dates (fruit) are smaller and its top tends to be bushier (more fronds). While its dates are reputed to be edible their small size (not much there to eat) make this palm tree not commercially viable. It is however valued as an ornamental palm species for park, gardens and avenues.
Seeds can be purchased at rarepalmseeds.com
The fruits (dates) of the Canary Island Palm are about the size of olives or large grapes (just under an inch long or 2cm). The hang in clusters with individual dates lined up along multiple strings that comprise the cluster.
The leaves are long (12-20 inches) and quite pointy on the end. Towards the base of the frond the leaves are so short and spiky that they look a lot like thorns (bottom picture). Some Canary Island Palms can become very loaded with fruit as can be seen in the image below. All of these images were taken of palms in the southern Spain city of Malaga.

Chinese Fan Palm - Livistona Chinensis

The Chinese fan palm is one of many palm tree species that are common in the south of Spain where I live. It is a popular palm for gardens for it ornamental value and moderate size. A great site for more information as well as seeds for this palm tree species is rarepalmseeds.com

The fruit of this palm tree is similar in size and shape to black olives or grapes. They hang in clusters of 50-100. Sometimes you have to get up close to see the fruit under the large fan type leaves of this palm tree.
The leaves are about 3-4 feet across and have thin pointy "fingers" that droop down creating an interesting ornamental effect. The trunk of this palm is not as thick as most. The palm in this picture had a trunk that was about 6-8 inches in diameter.

rarepalmseeds.com - palm seeds, cycad seeds, banana seeds

Australian Silver Oak - Grevillea Robusta

The Australian Silver-oak tree (Grevillea robusta) is, as you can infer from its name, native to Australia. Although it is called by term "Oak" it is not really a true Oak in that it is not a member of the quercus genus. Or put more simply it is not a tree that produces acorns.

It is, none the less, a very beautiful and interesting tree in its own right. There are three things about this tree that really stand out to me; its bright yellow and red flowers, its dramatic leaves and it curious little seed pods. The images above and below were taken of a tree not far from my home in Malaga, Spain just when the flowers were beginning to unfold.

On some of the trees the branches have so many flowers that the tree itself takes on a yellow and red flame color.
The little black seed capsules are about 1cm in size and split open along one side when they are ready to release their seeds.
The leaf of the Australian Silver Oak is alternately compound and the individual leaflets have a dramatic "flame-like" shape.

Mexican blue palm - Brahea armata

The first time I saw a Mexican Blue Palm (Brahea armata) in flower (inflorescences) I was blown away by how far out and down from the head of the "tree" the flowers hung. As you can see from the image above some of them were hanging down a good 15 feet! A good site for more info on this palm is rarepalmseeds.com It is also a good source of palm seeds of many kinds.

This particular tree in the "paseo del parque" of Malaga, Spain stands about 80 feet tall. In the image above the other palms behind the Mexican Blue Palm are Canary Island Date Palms. Also nearby are some true Date Palms. In the image below you can see what the hanging fruit looks like on a smaller palm.
The leaves are fan like (with pronounced fingers) and on the palms that I have seen range from 2-4 feet wide on 2-4 foot long stems.
The inflorescences gives way to hanging clusters of "fruit" that consists of small balls about the size of walnuts or large grapes. The images below pretty well speak for themselves.