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American Chestnuts to be Planted at Preserve

Once a prominent member of American deciduous forests, the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is now an extremely rare site to be found in forested lands.  Nearly completely annihilated from American forests by the Chestnut blight that was brought to New York in 1904, this fungal disease attacked these giant trees of the Beech tree family, with force.

Today, often only shoots from the old parent trees grow out of the ancient roots. The blight does not attack the roots, so they can continue to send up shoots that can live as long as about 25 years at maximum age before being completely affected by the blight.  Even these shoots are rare to locate today.

Jack B. Scaife, a contributor to the New Indian Ridge Museum, and the Museum’s director, Col. Matthew W. Nahorn, have documented several American Chestnuts near the Vermilion River on a high promontory overlooking the River, amongst an old Indian site in Brownhelm, Ohio.  Mr. Scaife located the trees and alerted the Museum of his important finding.  We then collected several nuts and are working to propagate young Chestnuts from these pure American Chestnut trees.  This was an impressive and rare find, and we are very pleased to be able to attempt to grow young American Chestnuts.  These are not necessarily blight resistant, but they none-the-less will be from the pure stock.  Scientists at The American Chestnut Foundation are working to breed a hybrid that is nearly all American Chestnut but with enough Chinese Chestnut in its genes to thwart the fungal blight.  While their work is noble and extremely valuable, we are interested in these pure and locally found American Chestnuts and will continue to study this important find.

After refrigerating these nuts over the winter, while maintaining the correct level of moisture in the soil, three of the nuts have been found to be fertile and have successfully germinated and sprouted.  These will be carefully cared for and eventually planted at the New Indian Ridge Museum’s Wildlife Preserve/Arboretum grounds.  They will not only serve as a reminder of one of the important, giant, nut-bearing constituents of America’s pre-European forests but will also be used to be studied and assessed regarding their response to the blight and overall health.

Below note the American Chestnut seedlings:

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Below are the nut-bearing Am. Chestnuts that have grown old enough to reproduce.  These are most likely old “suckers” from once giant Chestnut trees that graced the high cliffs of the Vermilion River Valley.