Nature Nugget – The American Chestnut

The American chestnut was one of the most important trees of eastern North America. Reaching heights of up to 150 feet tall with trunks up to 10 feet in diameter, the rapidly growing American chestnut was known as the redwood of the eastern forests. Found east of the Mississippi River from southern Canada to Mississippi, this deciduous hardwood tree was once an important timber tree. Its wood was rich in tannins, which made it highly resistant to decay.

The American chestnut was also a prolific bearer of nuts, with usually three nuts enclosed in each spiny, green burr. These nuts were very important to wildlife, providing much of the fall masts for species such as White-tailed Deer, Wild Turkey, and Black Bears. The nuts, known as chestnuts, were also once an important economic resource in the United States and were commonly roasted and sold on the streets of the larger cities during the Christmas season.

The chestnut blight, an airborne bark fungus, was accidentally introduced into North America in the early 1900s on imported Asiatic chestnut trees. The American chestnut was highly susceptible to this rapidly spreading disease, and by 1940, mature trees were virtually extinct. It has been estimated that before the blight, there were three billion chestnut trees in eastern North America and that 25 percent of the trees in the Appalachian Mountains were American chestnuts. Now the surviving number of large chestnut trees within the tree’s former range is estimated to be less than 100.

Despite the devastation caused by the blight, the root collar and root system of the chestnut are fairly resistant to the blight, so a large number of small chestnut trees still persist as shoots from existing root bases. These shoots are seldom able to grow large enough to reproduce, however, before the blight attacks them. Fortunately, a few adult trees are surviving with apparent resistance to the disease. Several organizations are using these trees to breed blight resistant trees for reintroduction to their former range.

“There is a blight upon everything. The earth feels the curse that God pronounced upon it, because of the disobedience of our first parents. They broke the command of God in eating of the forbidden tree, after he had given them the privilege of eating of all the other trees in the garden. They listened to the tempter, ate of the forbidden tree, and were expelled from the beautiful garden of Eden.” The Youth’s Instructor, August 1, 1856.

“When the veil that darkens our vision shall be removed, and our eyes shall behold that world of beauty of which we now catch glimpses through the microscope; when we look on the glories of the heavens, now scanned afar through the telescope; when, the blight of sin removed, the whole earth shall appear in ‘the beauty of the Lord our God’ (Psalm 90:17), what a field will be open to our study! There the student of science may read the records of creation and discern no reminders of the law of evil. He may listen to the music of nature’s voices, and detect no note of wailing or undertone of sorrow. In all created things he may trace one handwriting—in the vast universe behold ‘God’s name writ large,’ and not in earth or sea or sky one sign of ill remaining.” God’s Amazing Grace, 365.

David Arbour writes from his home in De Queen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: