Chestnut Tree Facts You Need to Check Out

Before the early 1900s, the American Chestnut dominated all of Appalachia and continued into New England. As much as 35% of the forest biomass was the massive American Chestnut (Castanea dentata). Animals and people alike used the Chestnut tree for food and its' wood for almost any manner of construction. The trees were massive.

Then in the early 1900s, a fungus appeared that was linked to imported Chestnut trees from Asia. Over the next 50 years' billions of Chestnut trees were lost, and today we are left with sucker roots coming up from the original stock. These survivors continue to provide small trees that offer the remnant genetics that the American Chestnut Foundation has used to do advanced breeding and molecular genetic work to save this plant icon.

With a huge part of the forest ecology disturbed, plant breeders and hobbyists have crossed Asian and European species to replace the nuts lost.

At the same time, there are at least seven species of Castanea. The main species include; the European Castanea sativa, the Japanese Castaneacrenata and the Chinese, Castaneamollissima. Most tree growers await the day of the approval of the genetically modified American Chestnut to be used without federal regulation. We in America are growing hybrids with various species resistant to blight. In North America, there are over one hundred hybrid varieties in cultivation, and the clear majority are Chinese hybrids. These orchard trees are relatively easy to grow in well-drained acid soils. The mixed trees have great nut quality, superior taste, and most disease resistance.

UMCA and its Chestnut Improvement Network (CIN) have partnered with Mountain Gentry LLC to facilitate research on the genetic improvement of new hybrid varieties of chestnuts for the American food market. Full-sibling controlled crosses were performed by CIN in Missouri with the resulting progeny propagated at Mountain Gentry nursery in Moultrie, GA. Over the next 20 years, full-sibling seedlings will be cultivated in breeding blocks for evaluation and analysis at Mountain Gentry Farm in Olive Hill, KY.