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Why an American chestnut tree in Centreville is the 'holy grail' for conservationists

After the species was devastated by an Asian blight in the early 20th century, a single American chestnut tree in Centreville has been deemed a “precious resource” by the Delaware Nature Society. Jim White, a senior fellow at the Delaware Nature Society, said the tree discovered at Coverdale Farm Preserve is the largest and oldest he’s seen in his 50-year career. “For people who are interested in trees, that’s kind of a holy grail-type thing, to see a big American chestnut,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything that size anywhere, and very few people have.”

The tree is estimated to be about 50 years old and 70 feet tall, with a circumference of at least 35 inches, White said. American chestnut trees once dominated eastern U.S. forests.

“That size is what’s uncommon,” said Sara Fitzsimmons, chief conservation officer at the American Chestnut Foundation. “Eighty percent of the remaining trees are an inch in diameter or less." 'Functionally extinct' "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire," as Nat King Cole once sang, was once a common winter scene in Delaware and throughout the eastern United States. Humans, mammals, birds and insects alike dined on the hearty brown nuts, which were plentiful prior to the 20th century, according to the foundation.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2022