After editorial discussions that were “a bit more serious and somber …[than] in some other years,” Oxford Dictionaries has named “post-truth” as its international word of 2016. But of course we’re not “post” any truths, especially not the truths of biology and physics that don’t bend in the foul winds of demagogues.
Nor in the errors of bloggers like me. Some taxonomic truths have come to light about the not-so-somber matter of tree identification. So, with many thanks, I share my colleague Dr. Hill Craddock’s take on the “chestnuts” from my last post.
He writes that the plants in the “photo could be in the genus Castanea, with the true chestnuts…but I think they may really be fruits of trees in the genus Castanopsis. Castanopsis is a large genus (more than 100 species) of Asian trees closely related to, and very much resembling Castanea. Some species share characteristics of Quercus [oaks] and Lithocarpus [“stone oaks”].”
So, the chestnuts from China (see additional photo below) are in fact close relatives of chestnuts, sometimes called “chinkapin”. These trees are evergreen and generally not frost-hardy.
Dr. Craddock continues with “a curiosity: ‘Shii’ is the Japanese name for Castanopsis. Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) are grown traditionally on Castanopsis cuspidata in Japan, although in the US, they are mostly grown on oaks, or other hardwoods. Shiitake literally means ‘Castanopsis mushroom.'” So, next time you are eating some US-grown shiitake mushrooms, consider their genus-crossing journey. I’d be interested to know whether the different tree substrates result in different experiences on the palate. Does oak-grown shiitake taste the same as Castanopsis shiitake? I know that local shiitake growers here in Tennessee claim a much richer flavor for shiitake grown on solid logs rather than sawdust bricks. Perhaps the species of wood also makes a difference?
I send many thanks to Hill Craddock for taking the time to share his knowledge and to Todd Crabtree for making the inquiry that led to our exchange.