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American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)

American Chestnut Bark American Chestnut Fruit American Chestnut Leaves

American Chestnut was a dominant tree in the eastern deciduous forest before the early 1920's. Sources indicate that as many as one in four trees in our forests may have been American Chestnut. It provided durable lumber, tannins, and edible nuts. The arrival of the Chestnut Blight in the early 1900's, however, resulted in the virtual elimination of this species by the 1940's. Old stumps and root sprouts of American Chestnut were present in Arboretum forests until recently and were the basis for developing and naming the Lost Chestnut trail. These remnants have now mostly disappeared, although root sprouts may still be present in the area.

In a talk at the UTAS annual meeting in November 2011, Bryan Burhans, President and CEO of the American Chestnut Foundation described the Foundation's efforts to develop blight resistant hybrid chestnuts from crosses between American Chestnut and Chinese Chestnut. A principal challenge is to develop hybrids that have the blight resistance of Chinese Chestnut but otherwise possess characteristics of the American Chestnut, including rapid growth, production of large numbers of chestnuts, and the ability to compete successfully in natural forest environments with other native species. Hybrids that are more than 90% American Chestnut are currently being tested at many different locations in the Eastern and Midwestern US, with the understanding that different hybrids that can adapt to different geographic regions and habitats will be needed.

American Chestnut Study UT researchers have been conducting studies to identify blight resistant strains of American Chestnut and to develop blight resistant hybrids. A number of studies have evaluated performance of American Chestnut planted on abandoned coal strip mines, both to evaluate the resistance of hybrids to Chestnut blight and to determine their potential use for reclamation. A related study at the UT Forest Resources Research and Education Center in Oak Ridge is evaluating the performance of native trees, including American Chestnut, on quarry spoils. The study is examining the effects of overburden preparation, response of trees to nitrogen fertilization and liming, and the success of pioneer vs later successional trees. Effects of the treatments on ecosystem processes such as changes in soil chemistry and photosynthetic rates are being documented.

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University of Tennessee - Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center
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