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The majestic American Chestnut was once the dominant tree of our eastern forests. It provided food to wildlife in the form of chestnut crops so abundant, they could cover the forest floor a foot deep. In addition, the foliage hosts over 130 species of moth and butterfly caterpillars, providing essential protein to songbirds. In 1904, an imported blight fungus began destroying the vast majority of Chestnut Trees in this country. But not all! Survivors remain. You can grow a seedling from one of these survivors, and be a part of the effort to bring this noble native back to its former glory!
- Hardiness Zone: 4-8
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Recommended by Our Growers
In the early days of the United States, millions of American Chestnut Trees grew across the land, from Michigan to Maine and south to Mississippi and northwestern Florida. The largest specimens were over 100 feet tall and had trunks 12 feet thick. The durable wood supplied people with the material to make furniture, railway ties, and utility poles. Then, in 1904, a deadly Chestnut blight from China appeared at the Bronx Zoo. By the time Nat King Cole was singing about roasting chestnuts in 1946, most of the country’s Chestnut Trees had fallen victim. We offer seedlings from mature, surviving Chestnut Trees in northwestern Illinois in an effort to help get this glorious species reestablished!
As spring slips into summer, American Chestnut opens its showy blooms, which look like fuzzy, creamy-white ropes. They give off a musky-sweet fragrance that some people like and others don’t. If another seedling is nearby to crosspollinate the flowers, prickly fruits will form, with sweet-tasting chestnuts inside.
How to Grow
American Chestnut appreciates good, rich, moist, well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine. Provide regular irrigation. Chestnuts are encased in prickly, sea urchin–like pods, so you’ll want to keep this tree away from patios, pools, sidewalks, and other places where bare feet may wander. In rural areas, semi-wild spaces are ideal, as local wildlife like turkeys, jays, and grouse will love to share in the bounty. Before planting, check with your local extension office about the presence of Chestnut blight in your area and the feasibility of planting Chestnuts on your property.
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