Rural System's

The Chestnut Group

The Chestnut Group was inspired and formed by Col. Hayward Shepherd beginning in 2004. He had seen the giant chestnuts during his boyhood around Lynchburg, Virginia, and later realized the importance of the loss of this magnificent tree. He saw that there may be a way to assist in work toward restoring the tree, developing a hybrid, or in other ways participating in creating a new (old) resource for the people of Appalachia and an economic resource for others. He began correspondence with Dr. Lee Klinger San Anselmo, California, who was working with oak wilt disease in the western US and with Mr. Allen H. Loyd who had personal interests in the chestnut and was a member of organizations and volunteered in several "service projects" working for chestnut study and reintroductions. Giles has studied chestnuts as a game biologist in Virginia in the late 1950s and with Seth Diamond, an excellent former student (deceased) published an article in honor of Seth and his work on chestnut mast (nuts for game species) production.

The profit-oriented objective of the group is:

A region-wide system of chestnut orchards providing employment, food, and an alternative commercial activity within the diverse work of Rural System

To achieve that, the Group now studies and works toward:

  1. Gaining cooperators and affiliates
  2. Cooperating and participating in chestnut-related activities and projects wherever possible
  3. Linking with existing organizations
  4. Selling information about the tree and its products
  5. Establishing orchards or links to and affiliations with existing orchards
  6. Selling, on commission, soil conditioner for reducing disease and increasing vigor and growth of plants (Arborculture, a California-based company, that provides natural, mineral-based products and services to effectively treat a wide range of diseases and pests of woody plants. Arborculture has been applying its pH-balancing patent-protected Arbor Minerals products and Arbor Services technology to successfully treat sudden oak death and is now positioned to become an industry leader in the holistic care of trees, shrubs, and vines.)
  7. Implementing a special planting arrangement of orchards to achieve full scale solar radiation and moisture benefits
  8. Selling Chinese chestnut trees and developing a fruit collection system, storage, drying, and marketing
  9. Developing hybrids or disease resistant stock
  10. Studying the bacteria and fungal resistant properties of the chestnut wood for potential commercialization
  11. Developing food products and dishes favoring the chestnut or its freeze-dried roasted form

Will the blight end the chestnut?
The farmers rather guess not.
It keeps smoldering at the roots
And sending up new shoots
Till another parasite
Shall come to end the blight.

     by Robert Frost (early 30's)

Background Notes

Scientific name of the American chestnut: Castanea dentata, (Marsh) Bork.

Name of the European chestnut: Castanea sativa

Name of the fungus that produces the symptomatic canker, Endothia parasitica (There are 80 types)

Endothia parasitica procreates sexually and asexually. Sick strains do not produce spores. Weakened asexually reproducing strains are carried by insects, water, and birds. Shrub attraction to birds carrying the pathogen seems slight; attraction to large adult trees very great.

There appear to be no blight-resistant American chestnut trees.

Chestnut trees do not pollenate themselves.

Strategies seem to be to increase resistance by breeding programs, improve the bark and resistance to attack, find a diagnostic for resistance so breeding programs can select for desirable stock early.

Giles suggested planting patterns such as suggested for black walnuts to maximize solar radiation received and minimize moisture and other stress.

Diamond reported that cankers can be "cured" by filling them with mud and making a mud pack of local earth in and over the canker. Organisms in the earth seem to attack the parasites.

Hartline (1980) reported researchers optimistic that a virus-like disease of the blight-causing fungus of chestnuts may eventually spell salvation for the American chestnut. Success experienced in Europe has not been reproduced in the US.

The cure may not be possible. The chestnut is very vulnerable to the fungus. Existing trees in the US are saplings and can be killed in a season. Apparently the fungus has diversified since entering the country in late 1890's on a shipment of oriental chestnut tree lumber.

Cured cankers may offer a source of virus that attach the fungus. The fungus seems susceptible to many parasitic viruses.

The first report of the disease in the US was in New York, 1904. By 1950 9 million acres of chestnut were dead or dying.

The blight hit Michigan trees later that those in other areas. In 1980 Lawrence Brewer, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, observed that there were a few stands of large trees that had never been infected. Others have notes some trees healing naturally.

Tannin extracted from bark and wood was used for tanning leather. The tree was important for wood, , for fences (the split-rail fence) ,wildlife livestock, and people.

In 1982 Anagnostakis reported limited success using a variety of combinations of hypovirulent virus strains placed in several plugged holes near each canker.

May the force be with this new chestnut
Extracts from an article By Joy Franklin Citizens Times published: July 3, 2005 6:00 am

a blight-resistant American chestnut would be planted in the Cradle of Forestry,...Anyone whos spent much time hiking in Pisgah and Nantahala national forests or any large tract of forested land in the Southern Appalachians has come upon chestnut stumps, sometimes with doomed sprouts still looking green and healthy.

... I was directed to Phil Pritchard, director of development and special projects for the American Chestnut Foundation, who is based in the foundations Asheville office. The tree was planted during a visit by an international delegation of forest management leaders. The group, from France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States, was in Asheville last week to discuss goals and challenges in sustainable forest management.

.. the tree planted Wednesday is only partially blight-resistant, but it is a harbinger of the real thing.

The American Chestnut Foundation was established in 1983 with the goal of restoring the American chestnut to its native range in the woodlands of the eastern United States. American chestnuts once dominated Appalachian forests, making up as much as a quarter of the hardwoods.

They grew to be huge trees, more than five feet in diameter. The creamy white blossoms spread across the top of their dense canopy sometimes made mountaintops look snow covered in summer.

Besides being beautiful, chestnuts provided forage for birds, bears, squirrels, deer and other native wildlife that depended on the plentiful nuts. They provided sustenance for humans too.

Appalachian families gathered the nuts to eat in winter, to fatten livestock, and to sell. They were shipped by the railroad-car full to northern cities where street vendors roasted and sold them.

The tree was also highly valued for its timber. It grew straight and tall, often without branches for up to 50 feet. It was as resistant to rot as redwood and was used for everything from telegraph poles and railroad ties to paneling and musical instruments.

Then, an Asian fungus, to which native trees had no resistance, began killing American chestnuts. The fungus, brought in on an imported tree, was discovered in New York in 1904.

By the 1950s, almost all of the chestnut trees from Maine to Florida were dead, though their root systems continue valiantly to send out sprouts which survive for two or three years before the fungus attacks and kills them.

The chestnut tree was so central to Appalachian forest ecosystems, its loss is considered by some measures to be among the most devastating environmental disasters to occur in the Western Hemisphere since the last ice age.

The American Chestnut Foundation established the Wagner Research Farm in Meadowview, Va., in 1989 to execute a backcross breeding program developed by two of the nonprofits founding scientists. The goal was to breed blight resistance from the Chinese chestnut into the American chestnut while retaining the American chestnuts characteristics.

The trees that result will be 95-99 percent American chestnut genetically ...American in character ... except for the blight-resistant gene from the Chinese trees

By 2007-2008, fully blight-resistant seedlings will be ready to plant in major field trials on Forest Service land

..another decade or more to see if, in fact, weve got what we think we have

...the foundation will continue breeding with new genetic stock from throughout the trees range so the resistant trees will come as close as possible to the genetic diversity that originally existed.

ON THE WEB: Readers may contact Franklin at 828-232-5895 or by e-mail at

Permission not received For local info only

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Subject: Paxtonville man works to revive American chestnuts; Daily Item (PA) August8/9, 2009

Paxtonville man works to revive American chestnuts By Wayne Laepple The Daily Item August 08, 2009 11:02 pm PAXTONVILLE — A hundred years ago, an unwanted visitor arrived in Pennsylvania. A lethal fungus, known as the chestnut blight, it hitched a ride from Asia and landed in New York in 1904, moved into Pennsylvania by 1909, and within 40 years, it destroyed the American chestnut tree population. Today, after years of trying, there is hope that a blight-resistant strain may eventually restore the American chestnut tree to health, though it may never again reach the estimated four billion trees that once grew on 200 million acres from Maine to Georgia and west to the Ohio Valley.

Man plants seedling A Paxtonville man, Chandis Klinger, who has been taking part in a program by the American Chestnut Foundation since 1983, last week planted a chestnut seedling on his land near the Middleburg American Legion post that may be among the first of the blight-resistant trees. “We thought it would take 60 years to develop blight-resistant nuts, but we did it in 25 years,” Klinger said. “This is a real milestone.” The American Chestnut Foundation operates a research facility in Meadowview, Va., where plant biologists and geneticists have been crossing American chestnuts with blight-resistant Chinese chestnuts. In order to maintain the significant characteristics of the American chestnut, the scientists have “back crossed” the trees several times, resulting in a tree with 15/16ths American chestnut genes and 1/16th Chinese genes. 1,000 nuts distributed This year, the research farm had 1,000 nuts for distribution to interested members of the foundation, like Klinger, to plant and monitor. Each member was allotted five nuts, and Klinger planted his five in half-gallon juice cartons and kept them in his home until they were well sprouted. Two failed to germinate, and another seedling died after it began to grow, leaving him with two healthy seedlings. Sara Fitzsimmons, a plant biologist with the foundation, came to Klinger’s property to witness the planting of one of the seedlings last week. She was accompanied by Alex Day, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the foundation. “We have a memorandum of understanding the with U.S. Forest Service,” she said. “We gave them 500 nuts to be planted in national forests in Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina.” She said the forest service provides some funding for chestnut research. 15-year outlook “The sixth generation (of nuts) appears to be blight resistant,” she said. “But it will take 15 years or more before we know.

There is a very limited supply of nuts now since it takes trees 5 to 10 years to produce nuts.” During the research at Meadowview and at a more recently established orchard at Penn State, growing seedlings are injected with the blight fungus to gauge their resistance. Day noted the American chestnut was once one of the largest trees in the forest, often growing to 100 feet or more and up to six feet in diameter. The tree was an important part of the ecosystem in the Appalachians, since the tree provided a large, reliable annual crop of nuts that provided food for various game animals. In addition, the nuts were harvested to feed domestic animals and people. Chestnut lumber also was an important product, since it was very insect-resistant, straight-grained and light in weight. “It was used for railroad ties, utility poles, buildings and furniture,” he said. Many surviving log cabins were made of chestnut logs, and chestnut utility poles set over 100 years ago still are serviceable today. The ornate wood wainscoting and trim found in many Victorian homes was milled from chestnut, as was a great deal of Victorian furniture.

‘Chestnut ghosts’ still stand In fact, Day said, in the southern Appalachian Mountains, huge chestnuts killed by the blight 75 years ago still stand, bleached white by weather and known as “chestnut ghosts.” In Pennsylvania, he noted, diseased chestnuts were cut down and burned in an effort to contain the blight, so few “ghosts” remain here. “People are in love with chestnut trees,” Day said. “We’re enlisting people’s memories.” Every town had its Chestnut Street, and the chestnut is celebrated in poetry and song, he said. Klinger has been experimenting with American chestnut trees since 1984, trying to come up with a successful method of planting them on his land. Squirrels, deer and bears have an appetite for the nuts, he said, and when he planted them, they often were dug up before they sprouted. He tried protecting them by planting them under a large tin can with a hole punched in the top for the shoot to pass through, but bears would simply knock the can out of the way. He also tried fertilizers with deer repellent, but the results were spotty at best.

Of the 400 to 500 nuts he’s planted, Klinger admits, not many have survived. Two seedlings in ground Last year, he sold some timber off his property, and last week, in an area now open to the sky, he planted his two surviving seedlings. He’s figured out that chestnuts may need more sunlight to thrive, so he’s mounting this experiment. He peeled the orange juice carton away from the soil holding the seedling, and kneeling on the ground, almost reverently placed the seedling in the ground. He carefully refilled the hole, leaving a small depression around the stem. He poured water into the depression. “I think that will hold some water when it rains,” he said. Day suggested he place a few rocks around the seedling, explaining that the rocks will absorb heat from the sun and keep the soil and the seedling warmer. Then Klinger picked up a basket of woven wire fencing about four feet high and four feet in diameter. He placed it carefully over the seedling. Later, he would stake it down, he said, to keep deer from nibbling on the leaves.

Time-consuming project

He pointed out another seedling nearby that he had planted in a tangle of limbs left from the logging. His theory was that deer wouldn’t disturb the seedling because they would be unable to reach it through the tangled limbs, which they would have trouble seeing. “This is all very time consuming, but it’s worth it,” he said. Fitzsimmons said the research completed by the foundation’s scientists may help as other scientists begin to seek solutions for a variety of pests attacking other trees in America’s forests. Hemlock, beech and ash species are all under siege by imported pests. “This work could be a model for other species,” she said. “It could be vital in leading the way.” Some of Klinger’s chestnuts are 35 to 40 feet tall, he said, and they have begun to produce nuts. He’s been watching them for signs of the blight, hoping against hope that they can survive. At 70, Klinger, a retired Air Force colonel, is well aware that he may not see this experiment to its conclusion. Nevertheless, he continues his efforts. An ancient Greek proverb says it all: a society grows great when men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit.

Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.


Diamond, S. J., R. H. Giles, R. L. Kirkpatrick, and G. J. Griffin. 2000. Hard mast production before and after the chestnut blight. Southern J. Applied For. 24(4) 196-201

Hartline, B.K. 1980. Fighting the spreading chestnut blight. Science 209(22): 892-893.

Anagnostakis, S.L. 1982. Biological control of chestnut blight. Science 215 : 466-471

Last revision: July 2, 2004