From beloved Christmas Carols to iconic Wyeth American paintings, the American Chestnut tree has always been deeply ingrained in our culture. Once one of the bedrocks of our forests, farms, industry, and identity, beginning in 1904 the American Chestnut Tree has been all but wiped off the land by a century of blight. It continues to fight for its survival and now with continuing help from its friends, the American Chestnut may be able to grow and thrive again in another decade or so.
Pennsylvania was at the center of its historic range and continues to play a key role in its future development. Over the years, there has been multiple efforts at creating a tree that could withstand the blight. They have tried both hybrids and cross breeding with other Chestnut tree types. Most of these efforts have been in vain, but with the recent advances in technologies, the work may be about to pay off.
There are two organizations that have been dedicated to the continued propagation of the American Chestnut Tree. The American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation, supporting Virginia Techs' Department of Plant Pathology, is dedicated to finding a blight resistant strain through open pollination from blight resistant mother trees. The American Chestnut Foundation is backcrossing the Chinese Chestnut with the American Chestnut to eventually create a 15/16 American Chestnut with the dominant characteristics of the American Chestnut but containing the blight resistance of the Chinese Chestnut.
Locally, the Tyler Arboretum off Painter Road in Media Pennsylvania has a Chestnut Nursery which is working in coordination with The American Chestnut Foundation to develop the blight resistant American Chestnut. Interested individuals can volunteer to help maintain the nursery as a Chestnut Nursery Tender. In addition, there are some isolated specimens still in the area including one at The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College.
Both of these programs are now meeting with some success. With the continuing help and time of these organizations and many volunteers, some day in the near future our forests may once again be filled with the grand American Chestnut Tree.