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The American Chestnut
The American Chestnut
Published by Stoloniferous
Default The American Chestnut

The American Chestnut
by Stoloniferous

The American Chestnut-chestnut_sign_small.jpg

"By 1950, the keystone species of more than 30 million acres of eastern forests (roughly the size of New York) had been essentially eliminated. Millions of acres of dead, but still standing trees, were all that remained.”

So reads a sign in a small park called Idylbrook Field in the town of Medway, near my home here in Massachusetts. On the sign are photos of black-and-white moonscapes populated with the looming carcasses of trees killed by an Asian fungus that was accidentally introduced to the continental U.S. in 1904. Behind the sign are rows of young trees - green, and for the moment, healthy. Here, the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is working to bring the American chestnut, Castanea dentata, back from the brink of extinction.

The American Chestnut-chestnut_row_small.jpg

There are barns and split-rail fences made out of chestnut wood that still stand. Chestnut is, or I should say was, an exceptionally good tree for timber. The trees were fast-growing , tall, hard-wooded, and as resistant to rot as redwood. In old-growth areas, trees could average a hundred feet tall and five feet in diameter. To give you some comparison, look at a towering oak tree. A hundred years ago, that oak would have been an understory tree in a chestnut grove.

When the chestnut fell, it wasn’t the soundless tree falling in the forest: it was a great blow to the timber industry, and its fall led to the nation’s first plant quarantine laws. But what unnerves me is that most Americans no longer know about this profound and recent change in America’s forests. Ask a typical person where a five-foot diameter tree should be growing, and they’ll tell you to look in the Sequoia National Forest; yet on the TACF sign is a photo of loggers posing in front of a chestnut trunk ten feet wide.

If a plant of such physical and economic girth can be forgotten in a matter of decades, what of the other native plants of less importance to us that have quietly dwindled, unnoticed, right beneath our feet? We may stop to wonder where the butterfly has gone that we saw during our childhood; it turns out that the butterfly required a particular humble plant to reproduce, and that plant has been forced into ever-decreasing margins by parking lots, lawns, and the blooming deserts maintained by well-meaning gardeners.

This is why most of my own gardening efforts go to raising native plants. I strive to make an Eden of my suburban lot while simultaneously providing a refuge for flora and fauna otherwise forced to survive off of the litter-strewn space behind the pizza shop down the street. As of now I am eyeing my yard for potential locations to plant some of the American Chestnut Foundation’s seedlings, which are available online. For two and a half decades, the forward-thinking folk at TAFC have been working on a cross between American chestnut and Chinese, which is blight-resistant. Please consider planting one of TACF’s seedlings in your own yard to assist the breeding program.
By Hedgerowe on 09-03-2009, 10:50 AM

Stoloniferous, please keep us informed as to how your Chestnut saplings do once you have planted them. It is something that I have thought of for years (did not have room at my last house). I will look into their suitability for my site. Chinquapins will grow happily here, so maybe the Chestnut will, too. Thank you for your articulate and moving post.
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By BooBooBearBecky on 09-03-2009, 12:13 PM

Nice article Stoliniferous-

As of now I am eyeing my yard for potential locations to plant some of the American Chestnut Foundation’s seedlings, which are available online.
Do you have a link for the chestnut seedlings available from the American Chestnut Foundation?

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By Stoloniferous on 09-03-2009, 12:16 PM

Thanks Hedgerow! I may wait until next spring before doing this, but when I do, I'll be sure to write up (and photograph) my results.

I was so thrilled when I stumbled across the chestnut grove at Idylbrook! There must be 200 American chestnut trees planted there. Plus several bat houses, bird houses, a pond with wetland, and a lovely meadow. We photographed all sorts of insects there last weekend. And this is all tucked away down a nearly unmarked road, quietly off to the side of a soccer field.
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By Stoloniferous on 09-03-2009, 12:24 PM

Originally Posted by BooBooBearBecky View Post
Do you have a link for the chestnut seedlings available from the American Chestnut Foundation?
Thanks Boo! Shoot. . . I thought I had a link to a site that sells TACF's seedlings, but I don't. This place sells other chestnut hybrids, and also chinquapin, which is a native nut-bearing shrub or small tree that is also affected by the chestnut blight: Chestnut Tree and Chestnut Seed Catalog I'll have to look around for a source for TACF seedlings. There must be one out there somewhere. . .
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By TheLorax on 09-03-2009, 02:26 PM

Such a lovely article. I can feel it was written from the heart which makes it that much more endearing.
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By NEBogger on 09-03-2009, 04:22 PM

I knew the chestnut tree was a beautiful tree, but didn't realize that it was such a hardwood tree. Thanks for the article stoloniferous.
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By Equilibrium on 09-03-2009, 10:42 PM

Great article. TACF is a very worthy organization. There is one variety of blight resistant chestnut named 'Timburr' available from Oikos that has the most American Chestnut DNA available on the market. I have three of them and these might be another worthy chestnut to consider. They are wonderful plants. I believe it is important to try to plant back blight resistant varieties to help fill the niche. I'm looking forward to when the 94% American Chestnut DNA blight resistant variety is introduced. When it comes out... I'm buying 3 a year for 5 years. Everybody buy!!!
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By Porterbrook on 09-04-2009, 02:28 PM

Excellent article Stoloniferous! The state tree farm in Point Pleasant, WV has an entire grove of American Chestnuts that have shown almost complete resistance to the blight. They keep selecting seeds from the most resistant trees and cross them to produce another generation of American Chestnust. They are now selling seedlings to the public. I will try to find out if there is a website with all the information.
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By amelanchier on 09-05-2009, 09:05 AM

Yep, there's one group that's been crossing with Chinese chestnuts and then back-crossing to increase the American DNA %, and then there's another group that's doing it entirely with American chestnuts, selecting the most resistant. I believe this latter group doesn't yet have a fully blight-resistant 100% American chestnut but are getting close. I'll do some searching for a link.
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american, american chestnut, american chestnut foundation, blight resistant chestnut, castanea dentata, chestnut, chestnut blight, chestnut fungus, chestnut grove, chestnut tree, chestnut wood, chestnutsm, extinction, fungus, grow chestnut, hardwood tree, hardwood trees, sequoia national forest

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