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 more details on the American chestnut tree, please visit our Field Guide page. 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. Because it was one of the largest trees in eastern forests, it earned the title of “mighty giant." American chestnut. 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. Caring for American Chestnut Trees. They are high in fiber, vitamin C, protein, and carbohydrates, and low in fat. American Chestnut is a vigorous fast-growing tree. Lifespan American chestnuts that are not blight-resistant live only about five years. It was most commonly found on hillsides and ridges. 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. Fax: 202.737.2457 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 Foundation is working to restore the chestnut to its natural range. 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. European chestnut (C. sativa) is also quite susceptible. To develop resistance to the blight, young trees are inoculated with samples of the chestnut blight fungus. 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. Tax ID: 53-0196544, © 2021 American Forests. 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?” Wetland Status. It survives in the wild in the form of root systems and stump sprouts. Some oak species (Quercusspp.) 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. He hit them hard with a massive dose, much more severe than they’d have received in nature, he says. “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. The majestic American chestnut tree was once common throughout the forests of eastern North America, providing sweet, meaty chestnuts for humans and wildlife. The American chestnut was once a very common tree but is now extremely rare due to chestnut blight. The American chestnut was once the king of the forest. The USDA had been crossing American to Chinese chestnuts generation after generation. (Credit: Vicky Sawyer). 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. 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.) “By the time a white oak acorn has made a baseball bat, the chestnut stump has made a railroad tie,” one advocate boasted. 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. The Romans ranked chestnuts alongside the olive tree and the grapevine as plants important to civilization. The American chestnut is a large tree with brown, smooth buds and twigs. 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. “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. Then the chestnut blight came in and began to decimate this species in the early 1900s. The leaves and bark of the plant are used to make medicine. Plant and Tree Range Distribution Maps; Castanea dentata Map ; Castanea dentata - American chestnut Range Map. Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) is resistant; a small canker can occur. After decades, their closest success was a single hybrid, dubbed the Clapper tree after its breeder. The goal has been to develop a blight-resistant strain of the tree and, over time, reintroduce it to its natural range. Before the species was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range. Special Concern. (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. Unfortunately very few specimens of these trees are left now. 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. 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. 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. 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. Complementary programs would be added throughout the historic range of the chestnut as the foundation’s state chapters grew to include 15 states. Last year, Hebard challenged his first few sixth-generation “restoration” chestnuts by inoculating them with blight. A 94% American backcross hybrid, which characteristics of the American species, but the resistance of the Chinese. Planting will continue in national forests. Burnworth explains that American chestnuts have an extraordinary ability to “release,” or spurt toward the light when surrounding canopy trees die. There’s also an ancient chestnut tree that Fred Hebard directs you to on your route home from Meadowview. Powell says a $5.6-million project that includes sequencing all the genes in the chestnut is two years from completion. Special Concern. The American chestnut tree was extremely useful to those who lived in its range. It is present in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. 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. Status Endangered The story of the native American tribes is strikingly similar to that of the American chestnut (Castanea dentata). Griffin has one tree, grafted in the early 1980s, that is now 24 inches in diameter and close to 70 feet tall. Endangered. ”. 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. 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. Chestnut wood was used to make furniture, shingles, siding, telephone poles, and fence posts. The wood from the tree was fairly light but strong and was fairly easy to work with. The American chestnut is native to southern and eastern parts of the United States, particularly along the Appalachian Mountains. Chestnut hybrids, grown at the Hashawa Environmental Center in Carroll County, MD. But it’s clear this is more than a job to him. There are also ongoing efforts to develop trees that are resistant to the disease. 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. (Credit: Melissa Boyle). 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. 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. 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. (Credit: American Chestnut Restoration Foundation/USDAFS). Another hope lies with engineering a transgenic chestnut. 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. Chestnuts dominated eastern hardwood forests not only in numbers; an estimated three to four billion trees across more than 30 million acres. The American chestnut rose 100, sometimes 120, feet above the loamy forest floor. (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. Remnant root systems are resilient and continue to send up new shoots that eventually succumb to the blight. 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.”. American Forests Reflects on Florence Harding During 2019 International Women's DayPerhaps Florence Mabel. It is also adaptable to different soils and climates, and established plants can withstand drought. The little trees represent the sixth generation of a breeding program begun by the 6,000-member ACF in 1989. 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. An Incredible Tree. He expects that this will allow researchers to produce a chestnut that is pure American except for the addition of a few genes from the Chinese chestnut that confer disease-resistance. A pure Chinese chestnut, resistant to the blight. One fourth of this forest was composed of native chestnut trees. Related Links. Between 1946 and 1963 it grew arrow-straight and tall like an American chestnut, reaching 76 feet before succumbing to blight in 1976. The key is a concept known as backcrossing. 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. 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. 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. However, the species was devastated by chestnut blight, a fungal disease that came from introduced chestnut trees from East Asia. get minor bark infections that can produce inoculum. 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. 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. Map Legend. Silvicultural trials allow us to learn how chestnut grows under different forest management scenarios. 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. 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. American chestnut is a member of the beech family. Before the early 1900s, the American chestnut was the predominant tree species in eastern forests. The wood was nearl… The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, monoecious deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. It was a huge, majestic tree, with a very straight stem. Existing trials have examined planting in gaps of various sizes, clearcuts, closed canopy, shelterwoods, and multi-step management prescriptions. More Accounts and Images; ARS Germplasm Resources Information Network (CADE12) Flora of … Burnham and other scientists in 1983 founded the private, nonprofit American Chestnut Foundation to carry out a scientific program of backcross breeding. More than a thousand place names that contain the word chestnut remain today throughout the Appalachians, which were the heart of the species’ range. The blight may evolve, too.”, But “restoration” chestnuts may not be the only tool in our arsenal before long. TACF National Office 50 North Merrimon Avenue, Suite 115, Asheville, NC 28804, Phone: 828-281-0047 Fax: 828-253-5373 chestnut@acf.org. 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. 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. Their native range encompasses most of the Appalachian mountain range, as far north as southern Maine and south as far as Alabama. Hebard, now 61, says at best it will be decades before it’s clear how successful he has been. Scientific Name Scientifically, American chestnut is called Castanea Dentate Description American chestnut plant bears three nuts enfolded in each […] Just as the chestnut blight appears here to stay, so does the movement to restore the chestnut to its place in the 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. 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. 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. Their profusion of bloom supported honeybees and other pollinators. Native range of the American chestnut tree (castanea dentata). 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. Its nuts were consumed by animals and people alike, and it was widely used as timber. This article was published in the Winter 2010 issue of American Forests magazine. If you could custom design the ideal tree species, you couldn’t come up with a better one than American chestnut. 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 . Plans have already been laid to take the Meadowview program through another few generations of crossing to get an even better chestnut 20 years hence. Range. Fred Paillet, a University of Arkansas geoscientist who often writes on chestnuts, has taken the long view. Researchers have estimated that 1 out of every 4 trees in the Appalachian Mountains was an American chestnut. “And?” American chestnut grew over a wide range in eastern North America. Interactive Koppen Climate Classification Map for the United States; “Maybe only yellow poplar, on excellent yellow poplar sites, might outgrow it,” says Kim Steiner. 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. Today, more than 100 years after a blight forced it into extinction, scientists are resurrecting this once-great tree. 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. 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 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. deep) as soon as the soil is workable. By Tom Horton, Healthy American chestnuts in Lesesne State Park. 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. 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. 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. 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. *Are you enjoying this post? 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 … They anticipated the effort would, after several generations, produce a chestnut fit for recovering a vanished part of the American landscape and heritage. Gary Griffin, Hebard’s PhD mentor at Virginia Tech, says these most ancient survivor trees almost all share a few characteristics. “They have some natural resistance, they are infected by the hypovirulence, and they have very good growing environments.”. 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. Today as we prowl the forests, its hard to think in the past tense and visualize that Castanea dentata, the American The American chestnut was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range and was considered the finest chestnut tree in the world. (Credit: Robert Llewellyn). “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.”. 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. Most American chestnuts today are killed by the chestnut blight by the time they reach 15 feet in height. . (Credit: American Chestnut Restoration Foundation/USDAFS). The American Chestnut was once the giant of the Appalachian forest canopy. 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. This species once was a dominant … The profound impact forests had on one of America’s greatest authors and his writing. Overview Information American chestnut is a plant. American chestnut trees once blanketed the east coast, ... Pennsylvania, the heart of the chestnut tree’s range. By the 1950s destruction was complete. These “redwoods of the East,” as they were sometimes called, made up between one quarter and one half … 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? “And how do you feel about that?” 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. 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. . Free! In Europe, such “hypovirulence” effectively stopped the blight from destroying that continent’s chestnuts. 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. American chestnut was once the most important tree of the Eastern North American Hardwood Forest. 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. There are now only 100 or so that remain. Nuss has cloned the hypovirulence and inserted it into a transgenic chestnut blight whose effects on trees are far less severe. 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). All Rights Reserved. The extinction of the passenger pigeon, and the near extinction of bison — all around the same time — were in the same ballpark. “It was just a preliminary test, with no controls, not a scientific experiment,” he says. An estimated 4 billion American chestnuts, up to 1/4 of the hardwood tree population, grew within this range. Scientists think the problems lie partly in the large number of strains in which both blight and hypovirulence occur. 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. 1220 L Street, NW, Suite 750Washington, DC 20005, Phone: 202.737.1944 Tennessee. 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. Michigan. It was some hundred years ago that these chestnut trees dominated the forested hills and mountains. The main concession to how the forest has changed since the chestnut last dominated will be a sturdy deer fence (“Please, make deer reduction the lead of your story,” implored one chestnut breeder). American chestnut - Castanea dentata Native Range Border Related Maps. “Meanwhile,” he says, “we’re going to plant. When you decide to start planting American chestnut trees, it’s important to begin early in the spring. If trees could talk...a region's history as told by its ancient trees. Furthermore, they believe that the progeny of these plants should all exhibit natural blight resistance. And you get an award-winning magazine. Interpreting Wetland Status. Far more numerous are chestnuts that sprout from the roots of felled forest giants, only to die in a decade or two from the deadly fungus that may never go away. “Pretty good.”. The American chestnut is not extinct. 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 … 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. The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. 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. A project to spot chestnuts sprouting within sight of the Appalachian Trail has so far turned up more than 40,000, Burnworth says. The process of tree breeding is not given to “eureka” breakthroughs. Many clear-cuts literally explode with long-suppressed chestnuts racing for the light. It was a magnificent tree used for lumber and for food. The American chestnut is a broad-leaf tree belonging to the beech family. The American chestnut was one of the largest trees in the forests of eastern North America. “Oh, they all died.” American chestnut. 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. Burnham had always assumed that program, which crossed thousands of American and Chinese trees since the 1930s, would eventually succeed. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was one of the most common trees in the area. 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. 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. 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. Researchers say they are strong performers, reaching three to seven feet, some flowering at an earlier age than normal. Researchers say they are strong performers, reaching three to seven feet, some flowering at an earlier age than normal. 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. These trees once reached the height of 30.5 … He explains that such a dose probably would have killed even resistant Chinese chestnuts. It has elongate leaves tapered at both ends and large teeth along the margins. 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. 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! 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