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Chinese Chestnut To The Rescue

9-28-16-chinese-chestnutThe American Chestnut was the predominant tree species in the eastern forests prior to the early 1900’s. It was a primary source of lumber, as well as the primary food source tree for White-tailed Deer, Black Bears, Wild Turkeys, and Red and Gray Squirrels. The chestnut forest could produce 2,000 pounds of mast or more per acre. Chestnuts were the favored food in the fall for game, because the sweet tasting nuts were high in protein and carbohydrates and had no bitter tasting tannins like acorns.

In the early 1900’s, the importation of Chinese and Japanese Chestnut trees to North America introduced chestnut blight, a fungus to which American Chestnut trees were nonresistant. It is estimated that between three and four billion American Chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century. Today saplings can be found, but full-size American Chestnuts within their historical range are few and far between.

If you come across a tree that has American Beech-like leaves (both Chinese and American Chestnut are members of the Beech family), and bears fruit covered with spines, it could very well be a Chinese Chestnut. While its leaves and fruit are very similar to those of the American Chestnut, Chinese Chestnut is blight resistant.   Its shrubby growth, however, is not desirable, so researchers have developed a hybrid chestnut that has the blight resistance of the Chinese Chestnut with all of its other traits (including height and girth) coming from the American Chestnut. (15/16ths American and 1/16th Chinese). Humans, as well as deer, turkeys, bears and squirrels, will reap the benefit of this research.

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13 responses

  1. Kathie Fiveash

    American chestnut was a major component of the forest in New England, providing lots of edible nuts, hard, durable wood, and lovely canopy shade. The development of the blight resistant chestnut is a wonderful advance. I wonder if this tree will ever be able to resume its position in the suite of North American trees – with the oncoming demise of beech and hemlock, also due to invasive pests I think, maybe chestnut can reestablish its place in our forests. It reminds me a little of the cod in our waters – cod is coming back, but will it ever be able to dominate the way it did? The whole ecosystem has changed in the interim, and maybe cod can’t re-enter its old niche? So many changes….

    September 29, 2016 at 11:30 am

  2. Cecelia Blair

    Mary, have they really come up with a blight-resistant Dhestnut yet, which has the good features of the American Chestnut? I thought they are still only working on it?

    September 29, 2016 at 11:47 am

  3. Marilyn

    We had three Chinese Chestnut trees (not shrubs, but not very tall and lanky) in the lawn behind our previous house. The deer would crunch on the chestnuts right outside our windows. The roasted chestnuts were pretty good eating; but the hulls were a menace!
    Sometime recently a very tall American chestnut was spotted from the air, in Maine.

    September 29, 2016 at 12:23 pm

  4. John Mathews

    Cant believe the Trump ad on your site. I know you dont control ads.

    September 29, 2016 at 2:15 pm

  5. Please tell me you are kidding, John!

    September 29, 2016 at 9:16 pm

  6. Good news!

    September 29, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    • Cecelia Blair

      Just a general addition to this conversation, Barbara Kingsolver’s near masterpiece, Prodigal Summer, has an old manwhose life purpose has become breeding a resistant form o chesnut.

      September 29, 2016 at 11:23 pm

      • I read that book. 🙂 One of her best.

        September 30, 2016 at 9:53 pm

  7. I’ve had a passion for American Chestnuts ever since I was a child hearing my grandfather talk of them. In the 90’s I planted pure American Chestnuts that I got from Virginia along the edge of the forest. Two of these seedlings have done very well, one of which is 40 feet tall with both of them producing nuts for the past few years. All chestnuts like well drained, acidic soil and will grow quickly under favorable locations. I have been testing various hybrids for hardiness and nut production, both open pollenated seedlings and grafted trees. Over time I have found that seedlings do better than grafted trees under my conditions. Some organizations are using GMO techniques in their breeding program, I would urge people not to give their support to this approach. There are breeding programs that are using Asian genetics like you mentioned to breed resistance into our native chestnuts but there are also ones that are only using pure American trees with a greater degree of resistance to the pathogen. So on our property squirrels are again running off into the woods with nice sweet chestnuts in their mouths!

    September 30, 2016 at 9:11 am

    • Wonderful news! Grateful for people with your degree of perseverance!

      September 30, 2016 at 9:14 am

  8. cathie creed

    Is there a source where people can purchase this type of chestnut to plant? I would love to have a few around my property especially if the wildlife would like them.

    October 1, 2016 at 7:58 am

    • Cecelia Blair

      You can go to the website for the American Chestnut Foundation to see what is available and to find out what is going on!

      October 1, 2016 at 11:06 am

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