Inside Selleck’s Woods Nature Preserve in Darien stands an American chestnut tree with long, oval leaves that have a saw-like edge.
The tree is the only one of its kind in the entire town, according to Darien resident Jimmy Ma.
Ma, who is on the board of the Tree Conservancy of Darien, recently published a book called Tree & Shrub Species in the Darien Area.
The 248-page book, which identifies 235 species of trees and shrub in town, was based solely on Ma’s own research.
For the past four years, Ma — along with his Nikon camera and a detailed map of Darien — walked or rode his bicycle through nearly every open area in town.
He, alone, covered every park, school, church, cemetery, golf course, nature preserve, interstate highway, and more.
Along his travels, he studied the characteristics of every tree and shrub he came across. He would take home leaves from the trees or, if they were too high to reach, he photographed them.
He would then try to identify them in a manual of landscape plants that he had at home.
On evenings, weekends and holidays, and through every season, Ma traveled all around town.
Ma said not only has he "identified the species of trees and shrubs in Darien, but “I’m confident that I have also identified many in surrounding towns and cities as well.”
Each page of the book contains a detailed description of a tree or shrub, as well as more than 700 color photographs of the tree, its leaves, flowers or fruit it produces.
Ma said his book details 95% of the trees and shrubs in town.
Ma, who emigrated to the U.S. from Beijing, China, in 1992, is a chemist at Henkel USA, a cosmetic business. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry.
Research
Ma’s research involved walking and riding his bike through the entire 600 acres of the three country clubs in town — Woodway, Wee Burn, and the Country Club of Darien.
He initially had trouble gaining access to them.
“I was rejected since it’s private property,” Ma said. “I had to go back a couple of times until I finally got permission to enter, from management.”
Once they learned what he was doing, Wee Burn Country Club assigned a driver and golf car to Ma, “so I could stop anywhere to see the trees, and take pictures,” he said.
While there were some trees and shrubs Ma was able to quickly identify, others took much longer.
One, a button bush, took eight months. This bush has tiny, fragrant white flowers. The flower heads mature into hard, ball-like fruits.
“I first found the leaf (at Baker Park on Noroton Avenue), but I couldn't find a match in the textbook,” Ma said. “I went back every month to find the flower. I knew that if I miss it, I would have to wait another year for the flower to come out.”
On another occasion, Ma spotted a type of tree that he had never seen before.
“I walked all around and saw other trees near it, but this one had different leaves,” he said.
He took a leaf home, checked his manual and learned it was from an American chestnut tree.
“The American chestnut disappeared 100 years ago when a fungus disease destroyed all of them,” Ma said.
Yet, their root is still alive, according to Ma. “This is one of the ways they have survived.”
“They are a very rare, native tree,” he added.
He said those who are interested in the book can send him an email at jmazotos@gmail.com.
He gave his book to Darien High School’s environmental science department and plans to donate it to the Darien Nature Center.
“I enjoyed doing this research,” Ma said. “It’s peaceful and relaxing when you out there, by yourself.”
He added that he loves the fact that that there are so many trees in Darien. “Trees are beautiful,” Ma said. “They are part of the circle of life.”
sfox@darientimes.com