American chestnut makes a return

A ceremonial planting of a potentially blight-resistant chestnut took place earlier this week on the grounds of the North Carolina Arboretum.

The planting is significant because the American chestnut once flourished in mountains of Western North Carolina, and its loss in the 1930s was devastating to both the economy and the environment. This planting celebrates the first steps of the American chestnut’s return to the region’s forests. Cataloochee Ranch in Haywood County has also been a site of chestnut reforestation, made possible thanks to genetic engineering.

The planting was performed by staff of the N.C. Arboretum and The American Chestnut Foundation.

Once the mighty giant of our eastern forests, American chestnuts stood up to 100-feet tall and numbered in the billions. They were a vital part of the forest ecology, a key food source for wildlife and an essential component of the human economy. In 1904 a blight, accidentally imported from Asia, spread rapidly through the American chestnut population. By 1950 the blight fungus had killed virtually all the mature trees from Maine to Georgia.

The seedlings planted at the N.C. Arboretum are part of the chestnut foundation’s restoration process. Now one-year old and several feet tall, the chestnut trees will be carefully monitored as they mature.

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