The Return of the Mighty Chestnut

October 26, 2009
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Unfortunately, many of our readers have never seen an American chestnut. The reason most of you have probably never seen a chestnut in real life (I’ve only seen seedlings) is because they all died. Well, okay, not all, but “virtually eliminated” is pretty close. At our tree planting with the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) at Caracassonne in March, we planted forty-three American chestnuts, gifts from the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF). At our survivability survey in September, we spotted several of them, which gives us hope that they’ll survive in the short term. I don’t know, however, whether they’ll survive in the long run, because of the chestnut blight. While we believe that our chestnuts are bred for blight resistance, we can’t be sure until they grow and we see whether they get infected.

Just in case you don’t want to read the Wikipedia article, here’s the least you need to know:

  • American chestnuts were once believed to be 25% of American forests, with up to three billion trees on the North American continent.
  • The blight is a fungus that was brought over on Asian chestnuts, which have evolved a resistance to the blight. American chestnuts, which had no resistance, were easy prey for the blight.
  • It’s believed that there are fewer than 100 mature specimens of American chestnuts left east of the Mississippi.
  • While chestnuts do grow back, due to their root systems having resistance, they rarely reproduce.

But there is good news to be had. The process of developing a blight-resistant American chestnut appears to be bearing fruit (pun oh so very intended). Twelve hundred chestnut saplings have been planted by ACF in conjunction with the National Park Service and the University of Tennessee (I know, it’s Tennessee, but bear with me). Thus far, the saplings have survived one year. Everybody cross your fingers and hope. If this works, we may be able to restore the Appalachian forests to what they once were 110 years ago.

If this is something that matters to you, you can contact Headwaters at 606-634-8669, or at letcherwater@gmail.com, and ask how you can get involved in restoring the American Chestnut. Posted by Reid

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