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What it Takes to Bring Back the Near Mythical American Chestnut Trees

Posted by Jane Hodgins, Public Affairs Specialist, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service in Forestry
Jul 29, 2021
American chestnut trees
This picture, taken in the mid- to late 19th century, gives an idea of just how large and profuse the American chestnut tree was in Eastern U.S. forests. There are now only 100 or so that remain. (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. There were once billions of them and their range stretched from Georgia and Alabama to Michigan, but the majestic tree was gone before forest science existed to document its role in the ecosystem.

Notes left by early foresters including Gifford Pinchot, the founder and first chief of the USDA Forest Service, suggest that its ecological role was as impressive as the tree’s size (PDF, 1.3 MB).

Mature American chestnuts have been virtually extinct for decades. The tree’s demise started with something called ink disease in the early 1800s, which steadily killed chestnut in the southern portion of its range. The final blow happened at the turn of the 20th century when a disease called chestnut blight swept through Eastern forests.

The disappearance of the chestnut launched a profound change in the structure and composition of eastern forests.

But, after decades of work breeding trees, The American Chestnut Foundation, a partner in the Forest Service’s effort to restore the tree, is close to being able to make a blight-resistant American chestnut available. However, the opportunity to restore the tree to its native range creates a question for scientists and foresters: What conditions are necessary for the American chestnut to grow and regenerate on a landscape scale?

Forest Service Research and Development scientists in the Southern Research Station and the Northern Research Station are partnering with national forests in the Southern and Eastern regions of the National Forest System to answer that question. Several studies are under way that are aimed at developing management protocols foresters can use to reintroduce the species to forests.

And hope is literally growing.

Chestnut plantings in a field
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service grant enables the American Chestnut Foundation to research ways to help the American chestnut, a vanishing species, survive. (USDA photo)

Several national forests in both regions have hosted experimental American chestnut plantings to assist in the development of reintroduction strategies. Managers on the Allegheny National Forest have demonstrated a deep commitment to chestnut restoration by explicitly including it as a goal in the forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan and establishing numerous chestnut plantations over the past 25 years.

In order to build on their goals, Allegheny National Forest managers and Northern Research Station scientists are collaborating in four new studies on the forest and surrounding forestlands to evaluate first the importance of site quality to chestnut competitive ability and blight resistance; second the impact of deer browsing on chestnut survival and growth; third the planted chestnut response to prescribed fire; and fourth the application of the three-stage shelterwood system for chestnut establishment.

The end goal of this collaboration among scientists and foresters is that the integration of their research will yield a holistic set of tools for reintroducing an iconic and long-absent tree species to the region and once again restore the lost giant of the eastern forests.

A man planting a chestnut tree
An American chestnut seedling being planted on the Wayne National Forest in Ohio. (USDA Forest Service photo by Jared M. Dort)
Category/Topic: Forestry

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Comments

T Adams
Jun 15, 2021

Recently found a 15-20 american chestnuts growing on my property on western side of skyline drive. They're around 20 feet tall and all are flowering. Is there any way to treat for the blight or is it pretty much a done deal that they die before reaching maturity.

Thomas M Hunt
Jun 22, 2021

I believe there is an American Chestnut on the grounds of my in-laws' home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It is a 40-foot, wide-spreading tree with the leaf, flower, and fruit of an American Chestnut. It produces hundreds of fruit-seeds each year. Perhaps by some miracle it has some natural resistance. Can the Forest Service suggest a person of service in the area of Exmore, Virginia, that might inspect this tree?

Ben Weaver
Jun 24, 2021

@Thomas M Hunt - thank you for your comment. You may contact one or both of these individuals below for further assistance.

Robbie Lewis
Area Forester
Email: robert.lewis@dof.virginia.gov
Phone: 757-387-7423

Ursula Deitch
Northampton County Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent
Email: udeitch@vt.edu
Phone: 757-678-7946, ext. 25

Nixie Anderson
Jun 23, 2021

We live in Oregon. Will Oregon have the climate to support Chestnut trees? We own 8 acres of land and I really want to have at least two Chestnut trees!

Peter MacMonagle
Jul 02, 2021

I would like to plant one in my front yard here in Charlotte, and take out the Maple that is currently there. I have followed this issue for several years and would like to be part of its revitalization.

Ben Weaver
Jul 02, 2021

@Peter MacMonagle - thank you for your comment. You can find additional information on The American Chestnut Foundation, North Carolina State Chapter at acf.org/nc-sc. If your state is in the natural range of the American chestnut, you can reach out to your state chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation for additional information on purchasing seeds.

Danielle
Jul 02, 2021

If I have spotted a chestnut tree is there a specific place to report it ?

Ben Weaver
Jul 06, 2021

@Danielle - thank you for your question. You may contact your state’s forestry department as well as the American Chestnut Foundation, both of which may be interested in your find. The foundation has instructions on how to identify and submit information about a chestnut tree. A word of caution: The instructions include sending samples from the tree. Be sure that you own the tree or have explicit permission from the landowner before collecting a sample.

Dave Burton
Jul 11, 2021

IMO, the best way to get wide distribution of transgenic, blight-resistant chestnut trees would be to engineer them to also reduce or eliminate the burrs / spines. Then people will be probably be more inclined to want to plant the trees in their yards and parks!

Steven Bradley
Jul 26, 2021

I'm concerned about a single majestic chestnut tree that is bordering the property line of an approved housing project that the entry roadway will compromise the root system it's one of less handful of these trees in my hometown of Berlin ma. Do I have any recourse or will I be forced to watch another chestnut tree go by the wayside

Ben Weaver
Jul 26, 2021

@Steven Bradley - thank you for your question. You may contact your local or state forestry department as well as the American Chestnut Foundation, both of which may be interested in what you have observed. The foundation has instructions on how to identify and submit information about a chestnut tree. A word of caution: The instructions from the foundation include sending samples from the tree. Be sure that you own the tree or have explicit permission from the landowner before collecting a sample.

John Gangone
Aug 01, 2021

Hello,
I have approximately 5 acres of land that I would like to utilize growing American chestnut trees.
Firstly, my property is located in the lower upstate New York area, (Sullivan County). I would like to know if it’s feasible, considering the climate, since it does get very cold during the winter months.
Also are there any special government programs geared towards in helping reintroduce American chestnut trees.

Ben Weaver
Aug 02, 2021

@John Gangone - thank you for your comment. You can find additional information on The American Chestnut Foundation, New York State Chapter at acf.org/ny. If your state is in the natural range of the American chestnut, you can reach out to your state chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation for additional information on purchasing seeds.

Rudy D. Burd
Aug 09, 2021

Thank God for these individuals whom are attempting to bring back the American Chestnut tree.
Rudy Burd

Mark brewer
Sep 07, 2021

I recently did a septic repair for a house not far from me and And as I entered the backyard I saw twoAmerican chestnut trees fully covered with fruit. One tree was about 24 inches in diameter and the other was about 34 inches in diameter.I was truly amazed

Dan
Sep 09, 2021

I have a few wild American chestnut trees one bears nuts but not fertilized nuts . It’s about 30, tall . The other trees are not as big yet . I am located in north east pa

Patrick Winkler
Sep 20, 2021

I enjoyed reading about the efforts to re-introduced the American chestnut tree in the eastern United States. I am from Aiken South Carolina and would love to see your project like that started in my hometown for the American chestnut tree

Aaron Mayo
Sep 24, 2021

so what does this mean for those of us that want to plant them in the plains states like Kansas? Have you thought about doing test plantings in these states to see what might help in the research? There maybe something here that could aid you.

Jon
Sep 28, 2021

I have submitted samples to the ACF. Provided they are genuine American chestnuts, we have many mature examples producing nuts, and multiple varieties. How do I get a grant??? I want to build a greenhouse to extend our season.

Dorothy Camus
Oct 07, 2021

My former neighborhood had an American chestnut tree. It grew in the middle of the hill with a road in front of it. Behind the tree, grew apple trees. When the apple trees were cut down, the American chestnut died shortly thereafter. In conclusion, the chesnut tree needs a little help from the apple tree.

Mark Hoverkamp
Oct 09, 2021

Good day I just purchased 115 acers in WV and very interested in growing these trees

David Dilorenzo
Oct 10, 2021

My son just bought a home in pascoag Rhode Island and while walking the property I saw a chestnut tree a mature one and couldn’t believe it

Julie Kolberg
Oct 13, 2021

I have a large American Chestnut on my farm. We get a crop of chestnuts every fall but the last two years most of the nuts are not fully developed.

Can someone tell me why this is happening?

Julie Kolberg

Ben Weaver
Oct 14, 2021

@Julie Kolberg - thank you for your comment. You can contact the American Chestnut Foundation at acf.org/contact-tacf regarding your question about your crop.

Susan Sellers
Oct 13, 2021

I live in Washington State and have a huge chestnut tree. Has to be well over 100 years old. Where can I get my tree identified in Wa state?

Ben Weaver
Oct 14, 2021

@Susan Sellers - thank you for your question. You may contact your state’s forestry department as well as the American Chestnut Foundation. The foundation has instructions on how to identify and submit information about a chestnut tree. A word of caution: The instructions include sending samples from the tree.

Pamela Denny
Oct 17, 2021

Is there any way I could help? I was just thinking how we used to collect chestnuts as a kid and how I haven't seen any in years so I googled it. I had no idea they were gone! I live in RI, If I could get some seedlings or something I could help plant them.

Ben Weaver
Oct 18, 2021

@Pamela Denny - thank you for your comment. You can find additional information on The American Chestnut Foundation, Massachusetts and Rhode Island State Chapter at acf.org/ma-ri. If your state is in the natural range of the American chestnut, you can reach out to your state chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation for additional information on purchasing seeds.

Courtney Gora
Oct 19, 2021

I have a chestnut tree on a property I’ve flipped a house on in Tuscaloosa Alabama. It produced a lot this year, and in figuring out what to do with the nuts, I came across this article. You’re welcome to check it out if it helps. I have no idea how old it is, but the house was built in 1962, and there are fig trees on the property that I believe to have been planted around that time. Could be as old as that, or could’ve been there before?

Lisa Mercurio
Oct 21, 2021

I live in Vermont and would love to be able to plant some chestnuts on my 6 acre property, or to help to bring them back on whatever way I can. Please let me know if I can help.

Ben Weaver
Oct 21, 2021

@Lisa Mercurio - thank you for your comment. You can find additional information on The American Chestnut Foundation, Vermont and New Hampshire State Chapter at acf.org/vt-nh. If your state is in the natural range of the American chestnut, you can reach out to your state chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation for additional information on purchasing seeds.

David T Donaldson
Oct 23, 2021

I would like to thank the forestry service for their efforts in restoring the American chestnut tree. Growing up in New York City, street vendors used to sell roasted chestnuts on the street corners. I had often wondered whatever happened to those street vendors with their "Chestnuts roasting on and open fire" (Nat King Cole song). I hope this endeavor proves successful!

Greg Person
Oct 29, 2021

A noble and worthy scientific goal.

Mike lankford
Oct 31, 2021

We have a farm in Tennessee , how many would you suggest per acre ?

Ben Weaver
Nov 01, 2021

@Mike lankford - thank you for your comment. You can find additional information on The American Chestnut Foundation, Tennessee State Chapter at acf.org/tn. If your state is in the natural range of the American chestnut, you can reach out to your state chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation for additional information on purchasing seeds.

Sara Gray
Nov 02, 2021

Is it possible to buy seedlings for planting in N C. Piedmont area?

Ben Weaver
Nov 03, 2021

@Sara Gray - thank you for your comment. You can find additional information on The American Chestnut Foundation, North Carolina State Chapter at acf.org/nc-sc. If your state is in the natural range of the American chestnut, you can reach out to your state chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation for additional information on purchasing seeds.

Todd Vuglar
Nov 08, 2021

Im in Waco Kentucky on the Kentucky river where I believe the chestnut thrived. My neighbor still has a large dead tree I believe to be a chestnut. Its so large he dosent want to get close to it as limbs are falling off. I would be glad to have my 10 acres cleared and have chestnuts planted as I feel this tree is needed and desired. These giants are beautiful.

David Leo Rothan
Nov 17, 2021

Reading up on and researching the American Chestnut I simply fell in love with this God given majestic tree. I live on the Cumberland Plateau outside of Sparta TN close to Chestnut Mountain. Even though there's a real chance of the trees I've planted getting the blight, being an optimist, decided to plant American Chestnut Trees anyway. I'm now up to 48 planted Chestnuts on my 20 acres with 5 more coming from Chief River Nursery. Have several trees now producing chestnuts, the producing trees are about 15' to 20' tall. From experience, there are a few things you need to do when planting Chestnut saplings. The first couple years you must protect the trees from beetles and deer with tree tubes and a screen cover on the top of the tube. When the trees are about 2' tall, you can remove the tree tubes and use chicken wire to further protect the trees from deer, deer will eat the entire tree if not protected. Suppose nature misses the tree so much, insects and critters can't resist the nourishment produced by this fabulous tree. When planting, make sure you use plenty of mulch, not touching the trunk and water during the dry periods for the first year.
I'm very interested in getting as much information as possible on the American Chestnut, so any recommendations you can provide Ben W., I'd certainly appreciate it.

Ben Weaver
Nov 18, 2021

@David Leo Rothan - thank you for your comment. You can find additional information on The American Chestnut Foundation, Tennessee State Chapter at acf.org/tn. If your state is in the natural range of the American chestnut, you can reach out to your state chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation for additional information on the American Chestnut.

Paul Bulson
Nov 23, 2021

I would like to plant hybrid native chestnut trees on my property in Michigan. Where can I get starts?

Charlie Foxhill
Dec 15, 2021

I did not know there were few chestnut trees left we have a very old old one on main street in Monroe WA I collect the nuts every fall and plant nothing grows.

Eric B. Ritchie
Jan 22, 2022

My Mother owns a 2/3 share of 800 acres in Gilmer County West Virginia. If the trees could be sent, I will plant them all.

Robyn Maghamez
Jan 28, 2022

This is so amazing. I live in Bradford county PA and am amazed at how forests and woodlands morph the landscape over the years. Thank you for your work.

Nolan Kennedy
Jan 31, 2022

Just found chestnuts from a mature tree in back our house. Did not know it was there. I’ll supply pictures if needed.

Erik
Feb 25, 2022

I remember the"skeletons" of big chestnut logs in the woods in the 1950's, they had been down for 50 years and people said the chestnuts would sprout from the roots but die before getting very big. Now even those skeletal logs are gone of course

Mike Harris
Apr 01, 2022

Hello I have been thinking about trying to raise American Chestnut trees. I have a small area in the back that gets sun from morning to around 3 to 5. I would appreciate any knowledge you have to point me to the right direction. Thanks happy trails Mike

Ben Weaver
Apr 04, 2022

@Mike Harris - thank you for your comment. You can find additional information on The American Chestnut Foundation at acf.org. If your state is in the natural range of the American chestnut, you can reach out to your state chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation for additional information on the American Chestnut.

Tom McQuaide
Apr 07, 2022

Great tragedy to lose such amazing, precious trees, whatever effort we put into restoring them is vital.

David Pugh
Apr 09, 2022

I am now transferring over 200 emerged American Chestnut seeds into small pots. I will monitor their progress and tI will plant on my 4 acres of woodland which was selective cut 8 years ago. This in southern Indiana, (Evansville)… I intend to plant a number on our Farm land near Shades State Park 3 hours North of here in Parke County. I’m not sure if The DNR at Lincoln State Park would want to introduce the Species to their badly infested pine and Emerald Ash riddled forest, but i will check with them in two weeks ! I would like to bring back this Tree to the US ! PS I have several Chinese trees that are now Producing ! Thanks for your work ! Mr. David Pugh