Chestnuts: Back from the brink

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;

The Village Blacksmith
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

ChestnutCourtesy Jaydot

At the end of April, President Bush marked Arbor Day by planting an American chestnut tree on the White House lawn. What makes this small piece of political theater significant is that the chestnut—a beautiful native tree which featured prominently in art and literature—was virtually wiped out by disease.

In 1900, chestnut trees spread from Maine to Mississippi. By 1950, some 99% of them had died of chestnut blight, a fungus introduced from China. A few isolated populations hung on, primarily in remote regions of the Appalachian Mountains.

In recent years, scientists have worked hard to breed a disease-resistant strain. They've taken surviving chestnuts and crossed them with Chinese chestnuts, which have a natural resistance to the disease. The result is a new American chestnut that can withstand the blight.

Chestnuts may never dominate our Eastern forests again. But some day, we may again enjoy the majestic tree that inspired so many poets and painters.

There are lots of articles on the web about chestnut blight and the recovery effort. Check out a couple of good, readable summaries from
Plant Pathology Online
and Sam Cox at the Colorado State University.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

So if we don't have very many chestnut trees here in North America, where do the chestnuts that you can buy at the grocery store come from?

Well, I did a little research and evidently the majority of the world's chestnut nut supply comes from Italy.
bryan kennedy
Science Buzz Site Admin

posted on Wed, 05/25/2005 - 3:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

THats wierd.

posted on Fri, 04/07/2006 - 6:17pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think you are probably correct

posted on Sat, 04/08/2006 - 12:51pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The picture shown is not a chestnut. I think it is a buckeye, or horse chestnut.

Chestnut picture

posted on Thu, 04/26/2007 - 3:31pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

can you eat both varieties of horse chestnuts as long as they're cooked? The ones I have are not pointy on top.

posted on Sun, 10/07/2007 - 9:07pm
bryan kennedy's picture

I can't find any information on the web about these two varieties of chestnut and their edible nature. You might want to check out a great book by Euell Gibbons called "Stalking the Wild Asparagus". I know there is a chapter in there about cooking chestnuts in many different ways and he might cover your question. It's a great read nonetheless. He has a great way of looking at nature and biological variety from the perspective of our hungry stomaches, something I can always identify with.

posted on Mon, 10/08/2007 - 9:47am

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