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
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
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.
My Mirror Site
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)
The American Chestnut
J. Hill Craddock's Chestnut
Northern Nut Growers
Resurrecting the American
Chestnut by Joe Schibig
Sources of American
Chestnut Pictures and Restoration