When I think of beloved trees that have disappeared, I don’t think of chestnuts but of elms, which disappeared from the Kansas City area in the 1970s. I grew up on a street shaded by a canopy of elms, but by the time we moved out south in 1973, they had been cut down. There are still plenty of tree-lined streets in Kansas City, but not so many with elms on them.
In the East, the chestnut was the backbone of many forests, until a blight brought in on imported chestnuts started killing the native trees around the turn of the twentieth century. They are mostly gone now, and those that remain will eventually become infected. But for at least a decade, scientists have been working to hybridize a chestnut that can reclaim its place in eastern American forests; the American Chestnut Foundation and the Nature Conservancy are involved in those efforts.
Volunteers planted a test plot in Nelson County [Virginia] on Sunday at Fortune’s Cove Preserve, a 1,000-acre tract owned by The Nature Conservancy.
The trees aren’t, of course, exactly like the trees of old. There are still some of the old trees around—root systems tend to survive the blight—but all such trees eventually get infected and die off, Carroll said. Instead, scientists have been hybridizing with Chinese stock, trying to create a chestnut tree that is as American as possible, except in its susceptibility to the blight.
I loved this quote, though you’ll have to read the entire article to figure out what the quote has to do with chestnuts: “Chainsaws and herbicide may not be associated in the popular imagination with habitat restoration, but in the case of something like autumn olive or tree of heaven, that can be what it takes.”
Source: “Nelson Planting Part of Effort to Restore American Chestnut,” by Ted Strong, Daily Progress, April 21, 2010