Special Concern. Silvicultural and reintroduction trials provide an opportunity to experiment with planting chestnuts on field and forested sites. Then the chestnut blight came in and began to decimate this species in the early 1900s. Planting will continue in national forests. (Credit: American Chestnut Restoration Foundation/USDAFS). The USDA had been crossing American to Chinese chestnuts generation after generation. Hebard, now 61, says at best it will be decades before it’s clear how successful he has been. 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 American chestnut is not extinct. “They have some natural resistance, they are infected by the hypovirulence, and they have very good growing environments.”. deep) as soon as the soil is workable. American chestnut. 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. For example, a Green Mountain National Forest planting, ma… American chestnut (Castanea dentata), whose native range is shown at left, is highly susceptible to the disease. If trees could talk...a region's history as told by its ancient trees. 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. Chestnut hybrids, grown at the Hashawa Environmental Center in Carroll County, MD. Wetland Status. “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. American chestnut is a member of the beech family. 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. Special Concern. Map Legend. A project to spot chestnuts sprouting within sight of the Appalachian Trail has so far turned up more than 40,000, Burnworth says. The American chestnut is a broad-leaf tree belonging to the beech family. It has elongate leaves tapered at both ends and large teeth along the margins. An Incredible Tree. “Meanwhile,” he says, “we’re going to plant. 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. There’s also an ancient chestnut tree that Fred Hebard directs you to on your route home from Meadowview. A native of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill suburb, he’s not given to talking much about matters other than the science of chestnuts. 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. In Europe, such “hypovirulence” effectively stopped the blight from destroying that continent’s chestnuts. An estimated 4 billion American chestnuts, up to 1/4 of the hardwood tree population, grew within this range. Existing trials have examined planting in gaps of various sizes, clearcuts, closed canopy, shelterwoods, and multi-step management prescriptions. *Are you enjoying this post? (Credit: Robert Llewellyn). The majestic American chestnut tree was once common throughout the forests of eastern North America, providing sweet, meaty chestnuts for humans and wildlife. Before the early 1900s, the American chestnut was the predominant tree species in eastern forests. At the forefront of this effort is The American Chestnut Foundation, which has chapters in 16 eastern states and a major research farm in Meadowview, Virginia. The wood from the tree was fairly light but strong and was fairly easy to work with. 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. They anticipated the effort would, after several generations, produce a chestnut fit for recovering a vanished part of the American landscape and heritage. 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 … Related Links. After decades, their closest success was a single hybrid, dubbed the Clapper tree after its breeder. Known as “redwoods of the East,” chestnuts grew fast and big, and lived long, reaching 100 feet in height, with diameters exceeding 12 feet, and attaining an average age of two to three centuries. These trees once reached the height of 30.5 … A 94% American backcross hybrid, which characteristics of the American species, but the resistance of the Chinese. Just as the chestnut blight appears here to stay, so does the movement to restore the chestnut to its place in the forest. The American chestnut is native to southern and eastern parts of the United States, particularly along the Appalachian Mountains. Free! 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. 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. If you could custom design the ideal tree species, you couldn’t come up with a better one than American chestnut. 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. By Tom Horton, Healthy American chestnuts in Lesesne State Park. It was most commonly found on hillsides and ridges. (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. But it’s clear this is more than a job to him. He explains that such a dose probably would have killed even resistant Chinese chestnuts. By the 1950s destruction was complete. Scientists think the problems lie partly in the large number of strains in which both blight and hypovirulence occur. The American chestnut rose 100, sometimes 120, feet above the loamy forest floor. Lifespan American chestnuts that are not blight-resistant live only about five years. 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. European chestnut (C. sativa) is also quite susceptible. Burnworth explains that American chestnuts have an extraordinary ability to “release,” or spurt toward the light when surrounding canopy trees die. Silvicultural trials allow us to learn how chestnut grows under different forest management scenarios. Now, thanks to collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, The American Chestnut Foundation and institutions like the University of Tennessee Tree Improvement Program, those blight-resistant trees are on the horizon, and scientists are developing silvicultural strategies to restore them to forests across their former range. 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. 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. The American Chestnut Foundation is working to restore the chestnut to its natural range. The blight may evolve, too.”, But “restoration” chestnuts may not be the only tool in our arsenal before long. Only hundreds of latest-generation nuts have been available to date, but this fall’s harvest was 13,000, and the numbers will grow geometrically. If there was an “Aha!” moment in bringing American chestnuts back this far from the brink, it came around 1980 when Charles Burnham, a corn geneticist, read of the shutdown of a decades-long, failed attempt by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to breed a resistant chestnut. Furthermore, they believe that the progeny of these plants should all exhibit natural blight resistance. Unfortunately very few specimens of these trees are left now. 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. “By the time a white oak acorn has made a baseball bat, the chestnut stump has made a railroad tie,” one advocate boasted. Its nuts were consumed by animals and people alike, and it was widely used as timber. The American chestnut is a large tree with brown, smooth buds and twigs. Caring for American Chestnut Trees. The American Chestnut was once the giant of the Appalachian forest canopy. 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. For more details on the American chestnut tree, please visit our Field Guide page. 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. 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. The key is a concept known as backcrossing. Then they do it all over again, generation after generation, hoping that genetic theory, forecasting a chestnut worthy of reintroduction after six crosses, corresponds to reality. Researchers have estimated that 1 out of every 4 trees in the Appalachian Mountains was an American chestnut. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, monoecious deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. “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.”. American chestnut was once the most important tree of the Eastern North American Hardwood Forest. 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. All evidence is that if the blight can be overcome, the chestnut can outcompete most any other hardwood to become part of the forest canopy. Scientists believe that by crossing an American chestnut tree with its blight-resistant cousin, the Chinese chestnut, the tree will retain both its American traits (e.g., tall-growing) and the gene for blight resistance. Once these crosses produced trees that were carrying chiefly the American chestnut genome — as much as 90 percent — they were ... state and national sites in the chestnut’s historical range. 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! ”. This species once was a dominant … Today, more than 100 years after a blight forced it into extinction, scientists are resurrecting this once-great tree. 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. To develop resistance to the blight, young trees are inoculated with samples of the chestnut blight fungus. Remnant root systems are resilient and continue to send up new shoots that eventually succumb to the blight. The American chestnut was once the king of the forest. Last year, Hebard challenged his first few sixth-generation “restoration” chestnuts by inoculating them with blight. Today as we prowl the forests, its hard to think in the past tense and visualize that Castanea dentata, the American 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. Between 1946 and 1963 it grew arrow-straight and tall like an American chestnut, reaching 76 feet before succumbing to blight in 1976. Fred Paillet, a University of Arkansas geoscientist who often writes on chestnuts, has taken the long view. American chestnut grew over a wide range in eastern North America. (Credit: American Chestnut Foundation). Nuss has cloned the hypovirulence and inserted it into a transgenic chestnut blight whose effects on trees are far less severe. Gary Griffin, Hebard’s PhD mentor at Virginia Tech, says these most ancient survivor trees almost all share a few characteristics. It is estimated that between 3 and 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20… American chestnut trees once blanketed the east coast, ... Pennsylvania, the heart of the chestnut tree’s range. 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. The leaves and bark of the plant are used to make medicine. This article was published in the Winter 2010 issue of American Forests magazine. All Rights Reserved. For two decades now, this historic quest has fallen to Fred Hebard, a taciturn, almost shy plant researcher who has directed the Meadowview facility from the beginning. The American chestnut tree was extremely useful to those who lived in its range. Many clear-cuts literally explode with long-suppressed chestnuts racing for the light. Tax ID: 53-0196544, © 2021 American Forests. Before the species was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range. Fax: 202.737.2457 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. 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. American chestnut. 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. Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) is resistant; a small canker can occur. However, the species was devastated by chestnut blight, a fungal disease that came from introduced chestnut trees from East Asia. The process of tree breeding is not given to “eureka” breakthroughs. . Researchers say they are strong performers, reaching three to seven feet, some flowering at an earlier age than normal. So far, neither the hypovirulence or his transgenic blight seem able to spread efficiently on their own in the wild, which would be essential for becoming effective across the landscape. One fourth of this forest was composed of native chestnut trees. (Credit: Melissa Boyle). Burnham and other scientists in 1983 founded the private, nonprofit American Chestnut Foundation to carry out a scientific program of backcross breeding. 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. Native range of the American chestnut tree (castanea dentata). American chestnut. 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. Their native range encompasses most of the Appalachian mountain range, as far north as southern Maine and south as far as Alabama. The American chestnut was one of the largest trees in the forests of eastern North America. It was a huge, majestic tree, with a very straight stem. There are also ongoing efforts to develop trees that are resistant to the disease. “Oh, they all died.” “It was just a preliminary test, with no controls, not a scientific experiment,” he says. Chestnut wood was used to make furniture, shingles, siding, telephone poles, and fence posts. The story of the native American tribes is strikingly similar to that of the American chestnut (Castanea dentata). 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. He hit them hard with a massive dose, much more severe than they’d have received in nature, he says. It survives in the wild in the form of root systems and stump sprouts. It was some hundred years ago that these chestnut trees dominated the forested hills and mountains. 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. These “redwoods of the East,” as they were sometimes called, made up between one quarter and one half … 1220 L Street, NW, Suite 750Washington, DC 20005, Phone: 202.737.1944 Plant and Tree Range Distribution Maps; Castanea dentata Map ; Castanea dentata - American chestnut Range Map. There are now only 100 or so that remain. “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. Some oak species (Quercusspp.) 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 was once a dominant and widespread canopy tree through many parts of the country, its range stretching from Mississippi to Maine. The American chestnut was once a very common tree but is now extremely rare due to chestnut blight. 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. American Chestnut is a vigorous fast-growing tree. 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 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. The profound impact forests had on one of America’s greatest authors and his writing. 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. Another hope lies with engineering a transgenic chestnut. Michigan. (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. 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.) (Credit: Vicky Sawyer). Scientific Name Scientifically, American chestnut is called Castanea Dentate Description American chestnut plant bears three nuts enfolded in each […] He understood that on his slow march toward his heavenly reward, he would spend as many years as possible growing and backcrossing the American with the Chinese chestnut . (Credit: American Chestnut Foundation), It sits alone in the middle of a pasture near Amherst, Virginia, full of healed-over cankers, its crown wracked by storms, but enduring. The little trees represent the sixth generation of a breeding program begun by the 6,000-member ACF in 1989. “And?” Because it was one of the largest trees in eastern forests, it earned the title of “mighty giant." 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. More Accounts and Images; ARS Germplasm Resources Information Network (CADE12) Flora of … 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. 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. “And how do you feel about that?” It is the only species of chestnut native to Canada. Burnham had always assumed that program, which crossed thousands of American and Chinese trees since the 1930s, would eventually succeed. Overview Information American chestnut is a plant. It is present in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. 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. They are high in fiber, vitamin C, protein, and carbohydrates, and low in fat. Interpreting Wetland Status. 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. 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. The goal has been to develop a blight-resistant strain of the tree and, over time, reintroduce it to its natural range. TACF National Office 50 North Merrimon Avenue, Suite 115, Asheville, NC 28804, Phone: 828-281-0047 Fax: 828-253-5373 [email protected] “Maybe only yellow poplar, on excellent yellow poplar sites, might outgrow it,” says Kim Steiner. 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. 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. The loss of the chestnut was an ecological calamity with few equals. 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. The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. 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. Status Endangered According to a historical publication, "many of the dry ridge tops of the central Appalachians were so thoroughly crowded with chestnut that, in early summer, when their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the … Their profusion of bloom supported honeybees and other pollinators. American chestnut - Castanea dentata Native Range Border Related Maps. “This means that our goal after 25 years has moved from breeding a chestnut that can survive to working on landscape-level restoration.”. Most American chestnuts today are killed by the chestnut blight by the time they reach 15 feet in height. Free! 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. 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. 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. 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. 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). 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?” Tennessee. Chestnuts dominated eastern hardwood forests not only in numbers; an estimated three to four billion trees across more than 30 million acres. Complementary programs would be added throughout the historic range of the chestnut as the foundation’s state chapters grew to include 15 states. 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. 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. Interactive Koppen Climate Classification Map for the United States; get minor bark infections that can produce inoculum. “Pretty good.”. 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. Powell says a $5.6-million project that includes sequencing all the genes in the chestnut is two years from completion. The wood was nearl… And because chestnuts blossom relatively late, their nut crop was never hit by the late frosts that often diminish the mast of oaks and hickories. A pure Chinese chestnut, resistant to the blight. Backcrossing was how the King Ranch bred its famed Santa Gertrudis cattle to produce excellent meat while surviving the harsh south-Texas environment. Endangered. (Credit: American Chestnut Restoration Foundation/USDAFS). 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. 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. The extinction of the passenger pigeon, and the near extinction of bison — all around the same time — were in the same ballpark. Griffin has one tree, grafted in the early 1980s, that is now 24 inches in diameter and close to 70 feet tall. 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. It is also adaptable to different soils and climates, and established plants can withstand drought. It was a magnificent tree used for lumber and for food. . Range. 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