Now, researchers believe they are close to saving the species. These threats also provide an opportunity to increase public awareness about our urban forest and the help it needs. © All photos, graphics and images on this site remain the copyright of LEAF and should not be downloaded without prior permission. The American chestnut forest was erased from the face of the planet. Indeed, there are so few mature American chestnut trees left anywhere in the world today that the species is now threatened with extinction in the foreseeable future. Revival of the American Chestnut. historic range of the chestnut, before the blight Source: US Forest Service Atlas of United States Trees. Native American Chestnut trees were nearly wiped out by fungal blight in the early 20th century, but thanks to much research into resistant hybrids, the American Chestnut tree is making a hardy comeback. The first chestnut tree may have been infected as early as the 1890s, with blight first reported in 1904 when it was spotted on a tree in New York’s Botanical Garden. Still more are taking a cutting edge approach and sequencing the DNA of the American chestnut and the fungus that causes blight, in part to guarantee that any trees reintroduced into the wild are truly blight resistant. The century-long drive to save the chestnut tree isn’t just about nostalgia or a funny manifestation of American exceptionalism. Our mission is to bring about the restoration of the American chestnut tree as a prominent part of Georgia forests. Some say this recovery could take 18-20 years, while others say it is a more long-term project (which will take 75-100 years before we know whether the tree can be re-established as a mainstay of eastern forests). The nuts were once an important economic resource in North America, being sold on the streets of towns and cities, as they sometimes still are during the Christmas season (usually said to be "roasting on an open fire" because their smell is readily identifiable many blocks away). The university has created a National Recovery Plan with the goal of producing a blight-resistant chestnut tree by hybridizing the American chestnut with other species of chestnuts. The paper estimated that the value of the trees was $400,000,000 as recently as a decade before. Posted by Jane Hodgins, Public Affairs Specialist, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service in Forestry. Essentially, the giant trees were reduced to shrubs by the 1950s. That’s cheating, according to Bost. The nuts of American chestnut are unlike any of the common nuts like oak and hickory in our forests. If a large crop of nuts is desired, several trees should be planted to insure good pollination. Healthy American chestnuts in … It was the most numerous tree in the forest (one of every four hardwood trees was a chestnut). Before Emerald Ash Borer and before Dutch Elm Disease, an extremely lethal tree pathogen found its way to North America: chestnut blight. It survives in the wild in the form of root systems and stump sprouts. Spores were released in rainstorms and tracked to other trees through footsteps. The American Chestnut: Extinct or Returning. My parents repeatedly told us, “NO, they are not the kind of chestnuts we can roast and eat.”, Ontario Residential Tree Benefits Estimator. Before the early 1900s, the American chestnut was the predominant tree species in eastern forests. This tree was very common before blight wiped out most of them in the early 1900's. A devastating chestnut disease was first introduced in North America from an exported tree to New York City in 1904.This new American chestnut blight, caused by the chestnut blight fungus and presumably brought in from eastern Asia, was first found in only a few trees in the New York Zoological Garden. Chestnuts are more like a potato than a walnut or acorn, rich in starch, with a moderate amount of fat and protein. Another recovery strategy that researchers are exploring is injecting chestnut trees with a virus to suppress the blight. There are, however, many accounts of thriving American chestnuts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and the Pacific Northwest. ?” I wondered. Large leaves turn yellow and brown in autumn. The recovery plan for the American chestnut could provide a guiding vision for other disease-threatened tree species, such as butternuts and American elms. In hopes of muscling that tree through to survival, researchers create DNA hybrids that are 15/16 American chestnut and 1/16 blight-resistant Chinese chestnut. Figure 2 Chestnut trees, in one of the most iconic images of early American forests. Chestnuts were roasted, ground into flour for cakes and bread, and stewed into puddings. Though three species of chestnut trees exist -- European, Asian and American -- only the American chestnut (Castanea dentata), found … In the meantime, we offer black walnut trees and American hazelnut shrubs through our Backyard Tree Planting Program, if you’d like to grow nuts in your own backyard! Today, more than 100 years after a blight forced it into extinction, scientists are resurrecting this once-great tree. The combined powers of the public, scientists, and the governments weren’t enough to save the chestnuts. The trees are “technically extinct,” according to The American Chestnut Foundation. The trees were renowned for their sweet and abundant crop of nut, as well as for the quality of their wood. This approach has saved the native chestnut tree in Europe and allowed some “mother” trees in Canada to survive. Mar 09, 2020. The blight rapidly spread to northeastern American … They are enclosed in a tan velvet lined burr that is spiny and green in color. The nuts of this tree are a distinguishing feature, as mentioned earlier. The chestnut tree survives in two forms, but neither are impervious to the blight and neither ever reaches the regal height and breadth of the historic tree. At least two American Chestnuts planted no more than 200' apart are required for producing chestnuts. American Chestnut. In fact, there are millions of sprouts that can be found throughout its native range. Many of the infected trees sent up shoots from surviving root systems after their demise. This picture, taken in the mid- to late 19th century, gives an idea of just how large and profuse the American chestnut tree was in … A scientist will analyze the sample for microscopic features which provide evidence for its lineage. The American Chestnut Tragedy . “It looks like a target filled full of small shot holes,” one Pennsylvania paper reported as the blight spread. A few decades later, perhaps 4 billion chestnut trees stood dying or lay dead. It is part of a large grove of naturalized trees in western Wisconsin that only recently was exposed to the blight. Then the chestnut blight came in and began to decimate this species in the early 1900's. American Chestnut Castanea dentata. Dr. Robert T. Dunstan, a plant breeder in NC, pioneered much of the research. The leaves of the trees were boiled down into medicinal treatments by Native Americans. Some scientists are crossing American chestnuts with Chinese chestnut trees, which are resistant to the blight, and then backcrossing the hybrids with pure American trees. The American chestnut was once the dominant hardwood species in Appalachian mountain forests, comprising as much as 40 percent of the overstory trees in … Though the trees are long gone from the forest canopies of the east coast, efforts to find a cure for the blight continue. A century ago, a blight almost eliminated the American Chestnut tree species, once one of the most prolific in the nation. Luckily, although the sprouts usually only reach about 15 feet tall before being killed by the blight, some are able to produce nuts before they die, enabling a new generation of trees to grow. Panic over the blight was widespread by the 1910s. Chestnuts are edible raw or roasted, though typically preferred roasted. 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