The American Chestnut

The tale of the American chestnut is a sad but true account of a majestic tree almost totally wiped out by a blight. Read on to learn a bit of the sad history, but also about rays of hope for the future of the mighty chestnut.

Photo Courtesy Penn State Live

Photo Courtesy Penn State Live

In the 1800’s, the American chestnut was one of the largest trees in the eastern portion of North America. It was a healthy, viable contributor to both humans and wildlife. People and animals coveted the nuts from the tree, as they were delicious as well as nutritious. The wood was valuable due to its resistance to decay, and was used in many products, including log cabins, railroad ties and furniture. It was also used as charcoal, which was used to heat homes and businesses.

The chestnut blight may have come to the United States via Asian chestnut trees. The blight was discovered by the New York Botanical Garden around 1904, and by 1911 the disease had spread rapidly throughout the eastern states. By 1950 the American chestnut was almost totally obliterated. What remained were standing dead trees with small stump sprouts; the sprouts only living for a few years before they also became infected and died.

Other trees in the forest tried to fill the gap left by the American chestnut, but were only marginally successful. Oaks, hickories and maples were not as valuable to wildlife as the American chestnut, as the oaks and hickories were not as plentiful and the red maple did not have the nutritional value that the American chestnut did.

People began searching for disease-resistant chestnuts, but were unsuccessful in their attempts. Though there are still some stump sprouts in the forests today, they are short-lived and seldom produce nuts.

Now, however, there is hope on the horizon. Since the 1980’s, The American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation and The American Chestnut Foundation are working hard to restore the American Chestnut. They are attempting to breed American chestnut disease-resistant trees, using only American chestnuts, and also by crossing American chestnuts with Asian trees. Scientists and genetic researchers are also trying to help in these efforts. It is our hope that these efforts will be successful.

If you are interested in learning more about the mighty American chestnut, Grey Towers in Milford will be hosting a Festival of Wood on August 6 and 7.  Information regarding the American chestnut will be available at this event.

The information in this article was obtained from Penn State University

Contact Information:

724 Phillips St Suite 201, Stroudsburg PA 18360 • 570-421-6430 • email

Bonnie Vogt, Penn State Master Gardener of Monroe County