by Catherine Howell
As the late afternoon light began to fade and frigid air penetrated gloved hands, the last of the Arlington replanted American Chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) was patted into place on a slope in Glencarlyn Park on a gray day in mid-December, 2013. There, with some serious luck, it could grow into a sturdy tree with viable fruit and possibly help reverse the bad fortune of the iconic American Chestnut––once one of the most common tree species in the northeastern United States, but now largely decimated due to a virulent fungus.
Chestnut Blight Fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America through Japanese or Chinese Chestnuts; those species co-evolved with the fungus and are not affected by it. American Chestnuts, however, soon succumbed to the novel pathogen. More than three billion native chestnuts perished, removing a species that was a valuable source of timber and a prolific native producer of fall mast for wildlife.
American Chestnuts survive locally in a very limited fashion. Most grow as shoots from stumps of decimated trees and rarely reach 20 feet in height. December’s replanting project involved the distribution of a hundred saplings grown at the Earth Sangha nursery from viable seeds collected mainly in the northern Blue Ridge. Unlike the hybrid trees that are bred from American and Chinese Chestnuts (with an effort to back breed the American species’ characteristics while maintaining blight resistance), these saplings represent true American Chestnuts. Continue reading