A Tennessean's Version of an American Chestnut Page

American Chestnut Articles, Organizations, and Information 

What Was So Special About the American Chestnut?

The American Chestnut was often referred to as the "King of Trees" or "farmer's friend" in early tree references. Appalachian farmers used the straight-grained, rot resistant wood for split rail fences, fence posts, barns, and anything exposed to the weather. In the fall, livestock was turned into the woods to fatten up on Chestnut mast. Chestnuts were gathered and sold as supplemental income.

A favorite among loggers, the American Chestnut was a large tree comparable to the Tulip Poplar, growing to over 100 feet tall on good sites and could live several hundred years. Chestnut lumber was strong, straight grained, lightweight, and easily worked. Its uses ranged from fine furniture to utility poles.

The drought resistant, late blooming Chestnut was a dependable source of mast for wildlife. Unlike many Oaks, its nut crop was unaffected by late freezes. The Chestnut thrived on dry, well-drained slopes where many other tree species struggled.


Large Tennessee Surviving American Chestnut

What Happened?

The American Chestnut in its legendary tree form was reduced to scattered shrubby sprouts over most of Tennessee and the rest of its natural range by the middle 1930s. Native American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata) were and are attacked by an imported "Chestnut blight" or bark fungus disease Cryphonectria parasitica (formerly Endothia parasitica). This blight arrived in the New England area around the turn of the century and virtually wiped out all mature American Chestnuts within their natural range. The roots are not killed by the blight, only the trunk or stems. The blight also attacks native Chinquapins and to a lesser extent certain species of Oaks as alternate hosts. The original range and prevalence of the American Chestnut may have initially been reduced by "Ink Disease", Phytophthora cinnamomi, a fungus disease imported around the mid 1800's that kills the roots and root collar.

Five Year Old American Chestnut Tree in Fall Color

Theories and Methods of Restoration

The American Chestnut is regarded by some to be a lost cause. After nearly 100 years of efforts to cure or restore it, the status of the Chestnut in the wild has changed very little. The tree is thought to reproduce vegetatively (by root sprouts) and exist primarily as an understory tree. These understory trees, though now rare in some areas, occur throughout the original range. My thoughts are that if man can walk on the moon, the American Chestnut can be restored.

Breeding of resistant American Chestnut large surviving trees and intercrossing their offspring that show resistance is one method of restoration (American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation, "ACCF"). Genetic Engineering resistance genes into the American Chestnut shows promise. (Darren Corrigan, William Powell and others) Using hybrids or crossing American and resistant Asian Chestnuts and backcrossing generations of resistant offspring to Americans is yet another method. (The American Chestnut Foundation, "TACF") A natural remedy called hypovirulence, a virus infection, slows the fungus and allows trees to recover. (Sandy Anagnostakis of The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and Gary Griffin ACCF and W. L. MacDonald.) Thanks to the hard work of modern scientists, all of these methods are making headway. Please Support American Chestnut Restoration!!

Although I am a member of the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation (ACCF), the purpose of this page has been to stir your interest in American Chestnuts. For details about restoration efforts and organizations, please visit my links on the right. Bear in mind, opinions vary about which method should be pursued. Feel free to e-mail me.

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Thanks to Darren Corrigan, Lucille and Gary Griffin, Sandy Anagnostakis, Hill Craddock, Fred Hebard, Paul Sisco and Herman Forest for their patience, kindness and responses to my many questions!

Page and Photos by Ed Greenwell Copy by permission only.

Last update 12-11-08

(Music: In the Hall of the Mountain King)

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American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation

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ACCF Closeup

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Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station

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The American Chestnut Foundation

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J. Hill Craddock's Chestnut Links

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Northern Nut Growers Chestnuts

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Resurrecting the American Chestnut
by Joe Schibig

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American Chestnut Links

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Sources of American Chestnuts

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American Chestnut Pictures and Restoration Scrapbook