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American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a broad rounded deciduous tree in the Beech (Fagaceae) family, which used to grow up to 80 feet in height and 60 feet in spread. Once a climax forest tree in the Oak-Chestnut dry woodlands of the eastern United States, growing from Maine to Mississippi and as far west as Indiana and Tennessee, since the recognition of the Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) 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.

Leaves of the American Chestnut are alternate, simple, 5 to 8 inches long with coarse, sharply pointed teeth along the edges. Fall color is composed of shades of yellow, gold and brown. Their fruit form very sharp, prickly burrs 2 to 2.5 inches long, each containing 2 or 3 shiny, round, brown sweet nuts 1/2 to 1 inch long. Its bark is light gray, with broad, flat ridges and fissures that often form a spiral around the trunk.

The American Chestnut is valued for its fruit and lumber. Chestnuts are referred to as the "bread tree" because their nuts are so high in starch that they can be milled into flour; they can also be roasted, boiled, dried or candied. The nuts were a major food source for humans, livestock and a wide variety of wildlife; its wood was harvested for the production of furniture, musical instruments, caskets, crates and tannin - more than half of the tannin used by the American leather industry once came from the American Chestnut. They were also an important cash crop for families in the northeast states and southern Appalachians up until the twentieth century.

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Supplier: Bob Corrigan

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