chestnut blight (caused by a fungus, Endothia parasitica) practically
has destroyed the American chestnut throughout its range. This
is an irreplaceable loss to some landowners in the mountains
where as much as 1/3 of the timber in some areas was chestnut.
The blight was introduced about 1906 and within a few decades
covered the entire range of the chestnut. The trees were fast-growing,
long-lived and sprouted profusely from the stump when cut. During
the past 70 years, many of the old stumps repeatedly have grown
Occasionally, the sprouts grow to 15 or 20 feet and produce
a few fruits, but the blight kills the sprouts repeatedly.
This stump-sprouting gives hope that the species eventually
may become immune to the blight; however, most pathologists
believe the chestnut is doomed and that the only hope is to
produce resistant hybrids.
Many of the better sites previously occupied by chestnut now
contain yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), a species that
is very valuable.
In the Southern states, the chestnut was native to the foothills
and mountains. It was one of our most useful trees and, as such,
was called the "farmer's best friend. "
Chestnut's long, pointed leaves are quite distinctive; they
are simple and alternate, dark green in color and average 5
to 8 inches in length. They have coarse teeth, each of which
bears a slender spine. Both male and female flowers are found
on the same trec. The long, slender, whitish catkins (scaly,
bracted spikes) open in mid-summer.
The fruit of the chestnut is a prickly burr, that opens at the
first frost (or earlier) and drops two or three shiny, large,
brown, sweet, edible nuts. These nuts make excellent wildlife
food. Chestnut bark breaks into light gray, broad, flat ridges
that often form a spiral around the trunk.
The wood is much like oak -- coarse-grained but lacks the distinct
rays of oak, and very resistant to decay. It is so resistant
that wood from some larger trees dead for more than 50 years
still may be used.