Chestnut (Castenea sp.)
Since the United States was first settled to the beginning of the 20th century Chestnut trees had major commercial value, producing orchard crops of tasty nuts and fine hardwood lumber from forest stands. Unfortunately the native American Chestnut (Castenea dentata) was essentially wiped out by a pernicious fungal disease, Asian blight fungus, introduced into this country around the turn of the century. Within forty years 3.5 billion trees died of the disease, making it one of the worst ecological disasters in history.
In the meantime, because of the disaster to the American Chestnut, chestnut trees from Asia that are resistant to this disease have, over the past 50 years, replaced them, being used primarily for landscape purposes. Some Asian types yield good nuts as well, but they have not caught on as an agricultural commodity. Chinese Chestnut (Castenea mollissima) and Japanese Chestnuts (Castenea crenata) have proven to be useful and attractive for ornamental and shade use in residential yards and public parks and along streets.
But now we may get our American Chestnut back. In the past twenty years much research has been done both in trying to find a hybrid that is resistant to the disease and to find a way to actually eliminate the destructive power of the diseases itself. As I describe below, there is much optimism that the American Chestnut will return to common use giving us a harvest of tasty nuts and gracing our landscape with its elegance and beauty.