The majestic American chestnut tree was once common throughout the forests of eastern North America, providing sweet, meaty chestnuts for humans and wildlife. After decades, their closest success was a single hybrid, dubbed the Clapper tree after its breeder. Tax ID: 53-0196544, © 2021 American Forests. It is present in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. They anticipated the effort would, after several generations, produce a chestnut fit for recovering a vanished part of the American landscape and heritage. (Credit: Melissa Boyle). When you decide to start planting American chestnut trees, it’s important to begin early in the spring. That’s the merest wisp of what Peattie described; “But we’re excited,” says Meghan Jordan of the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), which supplied the trees. Interpreting Wetland Status. 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. For more details on the American chestnut tree, please visit our Field Guide page. Most American chestnuts today are killed by the chestnut blight by the time they reach 15 feet in height. 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. Complementary programs would be added throughout the historic range of the chestnut as the foundation’s state chapters grew to include 15 states. A pure Chinese chestnut, resistant to the blight. “They have some natural resistance, they are infected by the hypovirulence, and they have very good growing environments.”. Of literally billions of chestnuts growing in the tree’s historic range when the blight hit, only dozens of pre-blight survivors struggle on in the wild today. Endangered. Remnant root systems are resilient and continue to send up new shoots that eventually succumb to the blight. If trees could talk...a region's history as told by its ancient trees. The process of tree breeding is not given to “eureka” breakthroughs. This planting, at a place fittingly known as Chestnut Ridge, will intersperse the chestnuts with other native species — white pine, red oak, black cherry, sugar maple — “the first attempt to see how they compete in a real-world situation,” says Sara Fitzsimmons, another chestnut researcher at Penn State. . . The American chestnut rose 100, sometimes 120, feet above the loamy forest floor. Meanwhile, the original blight is able to remain dormant in dozens of non-chestnut tree species, from which it respreads by wind and by birds. A 94% American backcross hybrid, which characteristics of the American species, but the resistance of the Chinese. 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. (Courtesy photo American Chestnut Foundation) Sometimes reaching a height of more than 100 feet tall with trunk diameters often well over 10 feet, the American chestnut was the giant of the eastern U.S. forests. Researchers say they are strong performers, reaching three to seven feet, some flowering at an earlier age than normal. You cross Chinese and American parent trees, then breed successive generations back to the desired (American) parent, eventually winnowing out all the undesired Chinese characteristics (shrubby growth, for example) except for its disease-resistance. Among his concerns is whether we fully understand all the mechanisms chestnuts employ to resist the blight; also “Will the Chinese chestnut’s resistance, even if we put it all into an American tree, be enough? The American chestnut is a large tree with brown, smooth buds and twigs. It was a magnificent tree used for lumber and for food. An Incredible Tree. Then the chestnut blight came in and began to decimate this species in the early 1900s. Fred Paillet, a University of Arkansas geoscientist who often writes on chestnuts, has taken the long view. Related Links. It is also adaptable to different soils and climates, and established plants can withstand drought. Special Concern. He expects that this will allow researchers to produce a chestnut that is pure American except for the addition of a few genes from the Chinese chestnut that confer disease-resistance. Before the early 1900s, the American chestnut was the predominant tree species in eastern forests. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was one of the most common trees in the area. The leaves and bark of the plant are used to make medicine. Just as the chestnut blight appears here to stay, so does the movement to restore the chestnut to its place in the forest. A mature chestnut’s sweet, carroty-tasting nuts—as many as 6,000 from a single tree — were nearly a perfect food for both settlers and their livestock, as well as an array of wildlife from turkeys to bears. While the Chestnut Foundation’s new, resistant trees are the first soldiers to be deployed against the blight, other ongoing programs could soon bear fruit: a chestnut genetically engineered for blight resistance; genetically altered strains of the blight fungus itself that weaken it; and, farther from success, breeding a pure native with resistance by crossing old survivor chestnuts to one another. “Meanwhile,” he says, “we’re going to plant. “This means that our goal after 25 years has moved from breeding a chestnut that can survive to working on landscape-level restoration.”. The goal has been to develop a blight-resistant strain of the tree and, over time, reintroduce it to its natural range. (Credit: American Chestnut Restoration Foundation/USDAFS). A modest but historic planting of several hundred little chestnuts has completed their first full growing season in the wild on U.S. Forest Service lands in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. With this latest hybrid, unofficially dubbed the “Restoration” chestnut, breeders feel they have a tree with enough of the Chinese chestnut’s natural blight resistance to have a shot at surviving; but also a tree that is virtually indistinguishable in form, growth rate, and wood quality from a pure American chestnut. 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. At the University of Maryland’s Biotechnology Center in Shadyside, virologist Donald Nuss has been dissecting the American strains of hypovirulence, trying to understand why they don’t spread as easily in the wild here as they do in Europe. Learn how to identify American chestnuts and send us a sample to support our research. Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) is resistant; a small canker can occur. get minor bark infections that can produce inoculum. Chestnuts dominated eastern hardwood forests not only in numbers; an estimated three to four billion trees across more than 30 million acres. Map Legend. There is plenty of evidence that genetic resistance to disease can be recovered by crossing even trees with relatively low resistance; but it is taking awhile — “We’re about halfway there,” he ventures. American chestnut. Planting will continue in national forests. *Are you enjoying this post? American Forests Reflects on Florence Harding During 2019 International Women's DayPerhaps Florence Mabel. The trees grow best when American chestnut tree nuts are sown directly in the ground (with the flat side or sprout facing down, half an inch to an inch (1-2.5 cm.) Researchers have estimated that 1 out of every 4 trees in the Appalachian Mountains was an American chestnut. ACCF geneticists calculated that perhaps 10% (estimates range from 5% to 20%) of the plants produced in this manner will exhibit blight resistance at least as favorable as the parent trees. Flowers are arranged in catkins with numerous tiny male flowers and a cluster of several female flowers at the base of some of the catkins. 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.”. 1220 L Street, NW, Suite 750Washington, DC 20005, Phone: 202.737.1944 In the next couple years, Hebard says, there will be larger-scale, more formal experiments testing the latest generation of trees’ resistance alongside Chinese chestnuts. Many clear-cuts literally explode with long-suppressed chestnuts racing for the light. American chestnut is a member of the beech family. With the state chapters, we’ll put millions of these trees throughout their range.” They will go, Hebard says, on available lands in national forests, on private property, and also to reforest abandoned strip-mined sites across Appalachia in a partnership with the federal Office of Surface Mining. American chestnut grew over a wide range in eastern North America. 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. Hebard, now 61, says at best it will be decades before it’s clear how successful he has been. 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. But it’s clear this is more than a job to him. The blight may evolve, too.”, But “restoration” chestnuts may not be the only tool in our arsenal before long. “The American chestnut, considering it’s been around millions of years, can in the long term probably take care of itself as long as wild woodlands and rodents and jays exist to forage and spread the nuts.” Paillet wonders whether it’s possible for the chestnut to someday be seen as virtually “invasive;” a problem, he writes, “I would gladly live with.”, — Tom Horton writes from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The loss of the chestnut was an ecological calamity with few equals. The main concession to how the forest has changed since the chestnut last dominated will be a sturdy deer fence (“Please, make deer reduction the lead of your story,” implored one chestnut breeder). European chestnut (C. sativa) is also quite susceptible. These trees once reached the height of 30.5 … “Pretty good.”. It is estimated that between 3 and 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20… The extinction of the passenger pigeon, and the near extinction of bison — all around the same time — were in the same ballpark. 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. American chestnut. It has elongate leaves tapered at both ends and large teeth along the margins. Last year, Hebard challenged his first few sixth-generation “restoration” chestnuts by inoculating them with blight. The story of the native American tribes is strikingly similar to that of the American chestnut (Castanea dentata). Existing trials have examined planting in gaps of various sizes, clearcuts, closed canopy, shelterwoods, and multi-step management prescriptions. It is the only species of chestnut native to Canada. 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 … He cites pollen profiles from North American lakes that show virtually all hemlocks simply vanished from the forests some 5,000 years ago — probably of a disease still unknown — and then reappeared throughout their range a few centuries later. (Credit: American Chestnut Foundation). Burnham had always assumed that program, which crossed thousands of American and Chinese trees since the 1930s, would eventually succeed. (Credit: American Chestnut Restoration Foundation/USDAFS). To develop resistance to the blight, young trees are inoculated with samples of the chestnut blight fungus. Interactive Koppen Climate Classification Map for the United States; He hit them hard with a massive dose, much more severe than they’d have received in nature, he says. “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. 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. 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. 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. Then breeders wait years for the offspring to grow, inoculate them with blight, and select as few as one out of every 150 trees that show the best resistance and most American-like growth habit. Today, more than 100 years after a blight forced it into extinction, scientists are resurrecting this once-great tree. There are now only 100 or so that remain. 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. Before the species was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range. American Chestnut is a vigorous fast-growing tree. Their profusion of bloom supported honeybees and other pollinators. (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. A Purdue University study shows that the growth rate, size and longevity of chestnuts let them store more carbon, and at a faster rate, than any other hardwood. It was beloved by timbermen for re-sprouting readily from the stump and reaching diameters of two feet or more in little over half a century; an oak on similar soils would take a couple centuries to add as much wood. American chestnut was once the most important tree of the Eastern North American Hardwood Forest. 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. Nuss has cloned the hypovirulence and inserted it into a transgenic chestnut blight whose effects on trees are far less severe. “And?” More than a thousand place names that contain the word chestnut remain today throughout the Appalachians, which were the heart of the species’ range. 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. More Accounts and Images; ARS Germplasm Resources Information Network (CADE12) Flora of … ”. The American chestnut was one of the largest trees in the forests of eastern North America. The “Amherst tree” is so large, so gnarled with age, and so rare that, like a few dozen other long-surviving chestnuts, it has been named. 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. That’s the merest wisp of what Peattie described; “But we’re excited,” says Meghan Jordan of the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), which supplied the trees. The American Chestnut Foundation is working to restore the chestnut to its natural range. There is a lot of incompatibility, which retards spreading; also, European chestnuts probably have a little more natural resistance than American chestnuts, which allows the hypoviruses to work more easily there. “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.”. 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. The wood from the tree was fairly light but strong and was fairly easy to work with. By Tom Horton, Healthy American chestnuts in Lesesne State Park. Their bold-grained, blondish wood was strong, easily worked, and extremely rot-resistant, used in everything from barn timbers to pianos, split-rail fences to fine furniture (in which it was often veneered with more fashionable woods like mahogany). The American chestnut is native to southern and eastern parts of the United States, particularly along the Appalachian Mountains. 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. Between 1946 and 1963 it grew arrow-straight and tall like an American chestnut, reaching 76 feet before succumbing to blight in 1976. For example, a Green Mountain National Forest planting, ma… Researchers say they are strong performers, reaching three to seven feet, some flowering at an earlier age than normal. The key is a concept known as backcrossing. However, the species was devastated by chestnut blight, a fungal disease that came from introduced chestnut trees from East Asia. The American chestnut is a broad-leaf tree belonging to the beech family. Furthermore, they believe that the progeny of these plants should all exhibit natural blight resistance. This species once was a dominant … Free! Special Concern. Lifespan American chestnuts that are not blight-resistant live only about five years. Plans have already been laid to take the Meadowview program through another few generations of crossing to get an even better chestnut 20 years hence. The American chestnut is not extinct. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, monoecious deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. American chestnut. The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. Silvicultural and reintroduction trials provide an opportunity to experiment with planting chestnuts on field and forested sites. By the 1950s destruction was complete. Griffin has one tree, grafted in the early 1980s, that is now 24 inches in diameter and close to 70 feet tall. Reaching over 30 metres tall and living up to 500 years, the chestnut was known as “the queen of eastern American forest trees.” So what happened to what was once also called the “redwood of the East?” But now comes the best hope in over a century for restoring the species that once comprised a quarter of all eastern hardwoods, with economic and environmental values unmatched by anything in today’s forest. Burnham and other scientists in 1983 founded the private, nonprofit American Chestnut Foundation to carry out a scientific program of backcross breeding. The Romans ranked chestnuts alongside the olive tree and the grapevine as plants important to civilization. Silvicultural trials allow us to learn how chestnut grows under different forest management scenarios. Today as we prowl the forests, its hard to think in the past tense and visualize that Castanea dentata, the American He explains that such a dose probably would have killed even resistant Chinese chestnuts. 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. Its nuts were consumed by animals and people alike, and it was widely used as timber. Wetland Status. 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. One of the funders of that project is Duke Energy, which is interested in the chestnut’s potential to reclaim coal-mining land, but also in its promise for sequestering carbon dioxide. 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