By the 1950s destruction was complete. There are now only 100 or so that remain. Between 1946 and 1963 it grew arrow-straight and tall like an American chestnut, reaching 76 feet before succumbing to blight in 1976. Far more numerous are chestnuts that sprout from the roots of felled forest giants, only to die in a decade or two from the deadly fungus that may never go away. *Are you enjoying this post? Approximately 15⁄16ths American and 1⁄16th Chinese, “It’s probably not the best tree we can achieve, but it’s good enough to start planting,” says Kim Steiner, director of Penn State University’s arboretum, and a science advisor to the Chestnut Foundation. Scientists think the problems lie partly in the large number of strains in which both blight and hypovirulence occur. Griffin, an emeritus professor of plant pathology, has been working since 1973 grafting tissue from old survivors (and younger ones that have made it to about 15 inches in diameter) onto American chestnut rootstock, crossing these to one another. By Tom Horton, Healthy American chestnuts in Lesesne State Park. The majestic American chestnut tree was once common throughout the forests of eastern North America, providing sweet, meaty chestnuts for humans and wildlife. The American chestnut tree was extremely useful to those who lived in its range. Researchers say they are strong performers, reaching three to seven feet, some flowering at an earlier age than normal. It’s possible that hypovirulence might help, in Hebard’s words, “to put the, These restoration chestnuts at Meadowview Research Farm show resistance to the blight. Before the species was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range. More than a thousand place names that contain the word chestnut remain today throughout the Appalachians, which were the heart of the species’ range. It was a huge, majestic tree, with a very straight stem. Gary Griffin, Hebard’s PhD mentor at Virginia Tech, says these most ancient survivor trees almost all share a few characteristics. The USDA had been crossing American to Chinese chestnuts generation after generation. The hypovirus here may make the blight too weak, so that it can’t spread in a less destructive form; in effect, vaccinating the chestnuts it encounters against the full-strength blight. When you decide to start planting American chestnut trees, it’s important to begin early in the spring. (Credit: American Chestnut Restoration Foundation/USDAFS). The Romans ranked chestnuts alongside the olive tree and the grapevine as plants important to civilization. American Chestnut Habitat The graphic shows the range.... Eastern North America, from Mississippi to Maine mostly on the spine of mountainous uplands that slopes in an upwards, northeasterly direction from the Southland. The American chestnut was once the king of the forest. Overview Information American chestnut is a plant. An American Chestnut Tree planted inside Bernheim’s Arboretum Prior to the 1900s, the American chestnut tree once dominated over 200 million acres of the eastern hardwood forest from Maine to Georgia, and west to the Ohio River Valley. Native range of the American chestnut tree (castanea dentata). And before they died, the little chestnuts exhibited about the same response to the blight, forming only slight cankers, as he would have expected of naturally resistant Chinese chestnuts. Fred Hebard says he’s seen understory chestnuts only an inch in diameter that show 60 years of growth rings, followed by growth that approaches an inch a year after they get access to light. Burnworth explains that American chestnuts have an extraordinary ability to “release,” or spurt toward the light when surrounding canopy trees die. “I have no problem with what Fred is doing trying to produce a hybrid,” he says, “but a lot of people also just want to bring back the pure American tree.”. Scientists have found naturally occurring viruses in the forest that are, in effect, a blight of the chestnut blight, infecting it and weakening its destructive power. Caring for American Chestnut Trees. A chestnut with a disease-resistant wheat gene has already been produced experimentally by researchers William Powell and Charles Maynard at the State University of New York’s Environmental Science and Forestry school in Syracuse. Chestnut hybrids, grown at the Hashawa Environmental Center in Carroll County, MD. Backcrossing was how the King Ranch bred its famed Santa Gertrudis cattle to produce excellent meat while surviving the harsh south-Texas environment. All Rights Reserved. Fred Paillet, a University of Arkansas geoscientist who often writes on chestnuts, has taken the long view. If you could custom design the ideal tree species, you couldn’t come up with a better one than American chestnut. (Credit: Robert Llewellyn). get minor bark infections that can produce inoculum. Related Links. That annual exuberance of the American chestnut began fading from the landscape around 1904, when a blight imported on Asian chestnuts began rampaging from Maine to Georgia. Burnham and other scientists in 1983 founded the private, nonprofit American Chestnut Foundation to carry out a scientific program of backcross breeding. 1220 L Street, NW, Suite 750Washington, DC 20005, Phone: 202.737.1944 “Oh, they all died.” Fax: 202.737.2457 But it’s clear this is more than a job to him. The wood from the tree was fairly light but strong and was fairly easy to work with. Tax ID: 53-0196544, © 2021 American Forests. The chestnut was a common species in the deciduous forests of the upland Appalachian region, which stretches from Maine to northern Mississippi and includes southern New York. . After decades, their closest success was a single hybrid, dubbed the Clapper tree after its breeder. In Carroll County, Maryland, in partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation and American Forests, more than 18,000 school children each year participate in a science curriculum built around experimental chestnut orchards. It was some hundred years ago that these chestnut trees dominated the forested hills and mountains. Once, their creamy June bloom so festooned the eastern hardwood forests that they looked from afar “like a sea with white combers plowing across its surface,” wrote the naturalist Donald Culross Peattie. A pure Chinese chestnut, resistant to the blight. The American chestnut is native to southern and eastern parts of the United States, particularly along the Appalachian Mountains. His funding comes from the National Institutes of Health, which is interested in how viruses work; the chestnut hypovirulence is one of the easiest ways to study this, Nuss says. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, monoecious deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. It is the only species of chestnut native to Canada. Remnant root systems are resilient and continue to send up new shoots that eventually succumb to the blight. European chestnut (C. sativa) is also quite susceptible. But because of its size and rather coarse look, and the possible litter of the prickly nut husks, it might be best-suited to a woodlot or semi-wild area. He explains that such a dose probably would have killed even resistant Chinese chestnuts. With the chestnuts, it meant carefully selecting parent stock (cloned offspring of the USDA’s Clapper tree were among the first generation), then laboriously hand-pollinating the trees, and bagging female flowers in plastic to keep out undesired pollen. The leaves and bark of the plant are used to make medicine. American Chestnut is a vigorous fast-growing tree. The extinction of the passenger pigeon, and the near extinction of bison — all around the same time — were in the same ballpark. Silvicultural trials allow us to learn how chestnut grows under different forest management scenarios. Researchers have estimated that 1 out of every 4 trees in the Appalachian Mountains was an American chestnut. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was one of the most common trees in the area. Today, more than 100 years after a blight forced it into extinction, scientists are resurrecting this once-great tree. Hebard was even a model for a character in local writer Barbara Kingsolver’s best selling novel, Prodigal Summer: The American chestnut’s distinctive leaves, burs, and nuts. Wetland Status. The American chestnut was once a very common tree but is now extremely rare due to chestnut blight. Free! “This means that our goal after 25 years has moved from breeding a chestnut that can survive to working on landscape-level restoration.”. The story of the native American tribes is strikingly similar to that of the American chestnut (Castanea dentata). These “redwoods of the East,” as they were sometimes called, made up between one quarter and one half … By 1989 the American Chestnut Foundation had secured farmland to begin its research and breeding program at the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley in the small town of Meadowview, Virginia. Planting will continue in national forests. (Credit: American Chestnut Foundation). When cross-pollinated with another chestnut tree by an insect pollinator, the female flowers develop into spiny bur-like fruits enclosing one to several chestnuts. The American chestnut rose 100, sometimes 120, feet above the loamy forest floor. The goal has been to develop a blight-resistant strain of the tree and, over time, reintroduce it to its natural range. “It was just a preliminary test, with no controls, not a scientific experiment,” he says. The loss of the chestnut was an ecological calamity with few equals. deep) as soon as the soil is workable. Most were nearly barren of branches for 50 feet or better, living up to what would become their nickname, “the redwood of the East.” These were massive trunks, some 16 … An estimated 4 billion American chestnuts, up to 1/4 of the hardwood tree population, grew within this range. Map Legend. Endangered. The American chestnut was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range and was considered the finest chestnut tree in the world. American chestnut. It was a magnificent tree used for lumber and for food. “And how do you feel about that?” It survives in the wild in the form of root systems and stump sprouts. History of the American Chestnut American chestnuts, giants that could grow up to 125 feet tall and 16 feet wide, once dominated the forests of Appalachia. If trees could talk...a region's history as told by its ancient trees. A 94% American backcross hybrid, which characteristics of the American species, but the resistance of the Chinese. Special Concern. Consider supporting American Forests to help us continue our work to restore, and grow healthy and resilient forests and city canopies all over the country! ”. Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) is resistant; a small canker can occur. Learn how to identify American chestnuts and send us a sample to support our research. However, the species was devastated by chestnut blight, a fungal disease that came from introduced chestnut trees from East Asia. American chestnut trees once blanketed the east coast, ... Pennsylvania, the heart of the chestnut tree’s range. The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. “Chestnut brown was considered the most beautiful shade of a woman’s hair, and the man who had a chestnut beard was usually considered handsome… silks and satins were available in chestnut brown,” wrote 101-year-old Georgia Miller of Pennsylvania a few years ago, recalling her childhood in chestnut forests. The little trees represent the sixth generation of a breeding program begun by the 6,000-member ACF in 1989. Reading the USDA’s published results, Burnham was shocked to realize that its scientists, including future Green Revolution Nobelist Norman Borlaug, had ignored a basic tenet of breeding resistance into crops. Their native range encompasses most of the Appalachian mountain range, as far north as southern Maine and south as far as Alabama. Nor has the chestnut itself ever really gone away, notes Essie Burnworth, head of the ACF’s Maryland chapter: “There are millions of them around, sprouting from old stumps, sitting as seedlings in the forest understory, just waiting for light to grow.”. The blight may evolve, too.”, But “restoration” chestnuts may not be the only tool in our arsenal before long. Even the Boy Scouts pitched in to try and save the chestnuts, scouring forests for blighted trees as part of a multi-state effort to create an infection-free zone. (Credit: American Chestnut Foundation), “He was haunted by the ghosts of these old chestnuts, by the great emptiness their extinction had left in the world. (Credit: Vicky Sawyer). It is present in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. The profound impact forests had on one of America’s greatest authors and his writing. Native range of the American chestnut tree (castanea dentata) The American chestnut tree reigned over 200 million acres of eastern woodlands from Maine to Florida, and from the Piedmont plateau in the Carolinas west to the Ohio Valley, until succumbing to a lethal fungus infestation, known as the chestnut blight, during the first half of the 20th century. American chestnut was once the most important tree of the Eastern North American Hardwood Forest. And next spring in Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County, about 500 more of the blight-resistant chestnuts will be planted on a private, cutover forest plot, Steiner says. 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