Friday, November 23, 2007


Riding my bicycle through the country today I come across some land that the owner has filled with a grove of chestnut trees. Dozens of trees, maybe 25 years old, spread over the rolling acreage once used as pasture. Perhaps these are American chestnuts being grown in the hope of finding a blight resistant strain. American chestnuts, Castanea dentata, were once a characteristic tree of our Appalachian forest. One in every four trees is thought to have been a chestnut. They could be giants, growing to 150 feet and up to ten feet in diameter! In the fall the massive crop of nuts, "mast," provided vital food for forest wildlife. In the early twentieth century a blight appeared in America, probably introduced on imported asiatic chestnut trees (which are immune to this same blight). The infamous chestnut blight quickly ravaged the eastern forest killing almost every forest chestnut. Today several organizations are breeding American chestnuts from a few surviving stragglers and attempting to breed in some blight resistant genes from other species of chestnuts. Perhaps one day these "redwoods of the east" will return to our forests!

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