The return of the mighty chestnut. (The woodlot).
Hear the word "chestnut" and one of several recollections is likely to come to mind:
As a novice blacksmith myself, the Longfellow poem Junior High English students once had to memorize has significant meaning--"Under the spreading Chestnut tree.... "The tree and smithy actually existed in Cambridge, MA. The tree was cut down to widen a road and later turned out to be a European Horse Chestnut, a cousin of the true American Chestnut.
Perhaps the Christmas carol "Chestnuts roasting by the open fire ..." will come to mind.
For older readers perhaps it will be "That's an old chestnut," for a well overused joke or comic routine.
Or, unfortunately, the initial thought may be "the chestnut blight."
The American Chestnut was once a mainstay of forestry in the Eastern half of the U.S. as it was the most common hardwood, comprising about 60 percent of the forested areas. The wood was widely used for lumber, fences, paneling, furniture and tools. It was nicknamed "the corn tree" for the value of its sweet mast which fattened many a hog and other livestock at virtually no expense to early homesteaders, as well as providing a protein source during the winter for their owners. Compared to acorns, chestnuts have some four times the calories, 14 times the protein, 15 times the fat, twice the calcium, eight times the iron, six times the sodium and five times the potassium; in addition to larger quantities of thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.
The demise of the American Chestnut started in the late 1800s with an attack of a parasite fungus, Endothia parasitica, believed to have arrival on several Chinese Chestnuts imported at New York City's Bronx Zoo. By the early 1900s the fungus was spreading in a radius from this area to an almost nation-wide infestation by 1940. Some pockets of uninfested trees remain in the Pacific Northwest. The parasite fungus thrives in the growth layer between the bark and hardwood essentially strangling living trees. Shoots from old stumps continue to grow today but are killed by the fungus before reaching the nut bearing state.
The somewhat inferior European and Chinese Chestnut have proven to be resistant to the fungus and some success has been made in grafting them to American Chestnut rootstock. However, there is still hope for the original American Chestnut. A plague seldom kills all of a population and this has proven to be the case where a few healthy, nut bearing trees have been found. Likely they have some adaptation or mutation ability which allowed them to survive the fungus. Seedlings from these nuts have been used to create hybrids which are available from nurseries.
Consider planting a blight-resistant American Chestnut. Who knows, you may not only have chestnuts for your own "open fire," but may have some to commercially sell to others to relive this experience. Trees start to bear in three to five years but don't reach full nut production until 12-15 years. American Chestnut nuts are currently wholesaling from $2 to $3 per pound and an acre of mature trees will produce over a ton of nuts. Under the two-tier agriculture concept, one could still graze livestock under the trees between the end of harvest and when nuts start to drop the next year.
Some sources of American Chestnut hybrids are:
Bear Creek Nursery, P.O. Box 411, Northport, WA 99157
Callahan Seeds, PO Box 5531, Central Point, OR 97052
Cascade Forestry Service, 21995 Fillmore Rd., Cascade, IA 52033; 563-852-3042; www. cascadeforestry.com
Empire Chestnut Co., 3276 Empire Road SW, Carrollton, OH 44615; www.empirechestnut.com
Greenmantle Nursery, 3010 Ettersburg Rd., Garberville, CA 95442; 707-986-7504
Nebraska Nut Growers Ass'n, 122 Mussell Hall, East Campus, Lincoln, NE 68583; 402-472-3674
St. Lawrence Nurseries, State Road 325, Potsdam, NY 13676; 315-265-6739; www.sln.pots dam.ny.us
Waynesboro Nurseries, P.O. Box 987, Waynesboro, VA 22980; 800-868-8676.