Friday, August 5, 2011

American Chestnut

At the Pisgah Inn in Pisgah National Forest, you can see this American chestnut (Castanea dentata) stump sprout on the edge of a drop-off just behind the inn.  All around it are bracken ferns and wildflowers and various weeds, a typical mix of mountain natives and exotics that look as if they've always shared the terrain.  In my memory, they have.  But my Appalachian grandmother remembered a very different forest than exists there now.

Appalachian forests used to be full of American chestnut trees until the chestnut blight (a fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica) came over from China in the early 1900s in a shipment of Chinese chestnut trees.  Millions of American chestnuts, many a hundred feet tall, dominated the Appalachian forests at that time, but by 1940 there were almost no American chestnuts left, and the eastern forests had been forever changed. Today the stumps of those old trees continue to grow sprouts which usually succumb to the fungus before producing seed.

Don't you wonder what the forest looked and felt like in 1890? 


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Read about efforts to restore the magestic chestnut: The American Chestnut Foundation