In the early 1900s, American chestnut trees dotted the landscape from Maine to Georgia. The trees grew tall, earning the nickname “Redwoods of the East,” and provided food and shelter for birds and forest animals and wood for homes and cabinets.
By then, about 4 billion chestnuts grew along the Appalachian Mountains, biologists estimate.But a fungal blight carried by birds, rain and wind decimated the population, and today, about 11 percent of those trees survive.Geneticists, botanists and conservationists, however, have fought to bring back the tree.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK LIBRARY Before the blight killed most of them, many American chestnuts were 15 feet in diameter and 120 feet tall. They provided food and lumber for much of the eastern U.S.
Last month, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, working with the American Chestnut Foundation, planted 1,000 American chestnut hybrids in three state forests and parks. In March, they plan to plant an additional 2,000.
And in the fall, volunteers from Miami University and the American Chestnut Foundation worked with the U.S. Forest Service to plant 1,200 American chestnut hybrids in Wayne National Forest.
The hybrids are a mix of American and Chinese chestnut trees. The two species look different but share some important genetics. Most important, the Chinese chestnut is resistant to blight.