American Chestnuts

The world is an amazingly small place.

Several years ago, I read an article in Nature Conservancy about American chestnut trees. In the 18th century, they accounted for one-quarter of all trees in the Northeast. They grew up to eighty feet straight up, their wood was light, strong, and resistant to rot, and the chestnut itself was a food staple. Then in 1904, an Asian virus was introduced which wiped them out, literally. (According to the article below, of the estimated 4 billion trees, only 25 survived. Not 25 percent, just 25!) Oddly, the virus only attacks mature trees, so saplings will grow for about ten years and then, just as they start to reproduce, they die.

This, of course, brought out the romantic in me, and I decided to plant American chestnuts on the farm when we moved back. Of course, in the meantime I hadn’t done any research, but I had mentioned it to several landscape architects, who must have thought I was crazy wanting to plant trees that will probably die in ten years.

Then, today, I stumbled upon an article that was written about a month ago:

“Rooting out infestation” By Jon Rutter (Lancaster Sunday News, May 7, 2006) … A few weeks ago at Speedwell Forge Lake, [Derek Pritts] and other chestnut lovers embarked on a groundbreaking project… They are establishing two groves of trees with seedlings and seed nuts gleaned through The American Chestnut Foundation and the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation in 12 states.
So I want to plant American chestnuts, and here is someone looking to plant American chestnuts, and he ends up right next door! I contacted him and we are going to meet in July, with the hope of planting next Spring. I’m also joining the ACCF, which sells 50 American chestnut seeds for $40.

Dawn, however, is not as enthusiastic. We already have a couple of chestnuts on the farm (probably Asian chestnuts, which don’t get as tall but are immune to the virus) and when they flower, it stinks. I mean, it’s like a skunk sprayed a manure pile. It’s awful.

And that’s just two trees. I want to plant dozens, maybe hundreds.