The American chestnut -- from devastation to restoring effort
Have you ever seen a chestnut tree?
The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was once one of the most common and important tree species in the Eastern United States. It could be found from Northern Florida to Southern Maine, and west into Tennessee and Ohio. One of the reasons that the American chestnut was so common was that it could out-compete most other forest trees for the available resources needed for tree growth. These trees got absolutely huge! They often had a diameter of more than 10 feet and grew to heights of well over 100 feet
The American chestnut tree was extremely useful to those who lived in its range. The wood from the tree was fairly light but strong and was fairly easy to work with. Chestnut wood was used to make furniture, shingles, siding, telephone poles, and fence posts . It was an extremely good wood for use outdoors due to the large amount of tannic acid in the wood that kept it from rotting for a long time. The chestnuts themselves were also a very important food source for people as well as livestock and wildlife. The nuts were often gathered by the wagonload as they ripened and fell off the trees in the fall. Some of the chestnuts were then used to supplement food stores in the fall and winter. Often the chestnuts were taken into towns by the wagonload and then shipped by train to major markets in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
In 1904, a most unfortunate "thing" was imported into the United States. This "thing" was the Chestnut blight fungus, or Cryphonectria parasitica. The fungus came into the country on some Japanese and Chinese chestnut trees that were being imported to the Bronx Zoological Park in New York City. The blight then quickly spread to some American chestnut trees in the park through the air and throughout the entire range of the chestnut by the 1940's. The American chestnut trees, which evolved without the presence of the blight, are not resistant to the fungus and are quickly killed off by it.*
Plan now to attend the WCMG Monday, February 13 membership meeting to learn more about the work of the American Chestnut Foundation as we welcome Tim Phelps to our meeting.
Tim is the Forestry Communications and Outreach Unit Leader for the TN Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry.