American Chestnut was once a climax forest tree in the Oak-Chestnut dry woodlands of the eastern United States, but since the recognition of the Chestnut blight in1904 in New York, the entire forest population has been destroyed. Most of the intact, living trees in the wild were gone by the 1950's, and all that remains today are a few stump sprouts that still linger (attaining heights of about 25 feet before they succumb to the fungus). Breeding programs that have introduced resistance genes from Japanese and Chinese Chestnuts into moderately resistant strains of American Chestnut have met with some success, but the ultimate goal of large scale re-introduction into forests will not occur for some time, if ever.
In Ohio, the central counties of the state on a north-south line marked the most westward boundary of the American Chestnut habitat in the state. American Chestnut was predominately located in the eastern half of Ohio, where the soils are more acidic. Its nuts were a staple food of the Native Americans and pioneers, while its wood was harvested for the production of furniture, musical instruments, caskets, crates, and tannin. Dimensions of 80 feet tall by 60 feet wide were regulary obtained when it was located in the open. As a member of the Beech Family, it is related to the Oaks and the Beeches, in addition to other Chestnuts.
Planting Requirements - American Chestnut is still undergoing extensive breeding to allow its re-introduction as a tree that can not only survive the Chestnut blight fungus and yield large quantities of tasty nuts, but that can successfully compete in dry forests and re-establish itself as a climax forest tree. American Chestnuts found in the wild are primarily stump sprouts that will eventually die. Seedlings obtained from breeding programs are carefully planted and monitored under controlled conditions. From a historical (and perhaps future) perspective, the traditional American Chestnut prefers moist, deep, acidic soils in full sun (being shade tolerant in youth), but thrives in dry, rocky soils. It is found in zones 4 to 8.
Potential Problems- Chestnut blight (Endothia parasitica) is the only problem worth mentioning - any and all others pale by comparison. However, young trees from the few remaining stump sprouts (top photo) are resistant to the fungus for a number of years, even in some cases to the point of being able to bear fruits before becoming infected and dying.