Garden Diary: American Chestnut Trees at Carlton Hobbs

May 22 2015, 1:24pm

A blight-resistant American chestnut tree seedling in the garden at 60 East 93rd Street. Today at Carlton Hobbs, we are excited to be planting five very special seedlings in our garden– American chestnut trees (with a view to placing them in a permanent home upstate in two year’s time ). One hundred years ago, these trees were a massive presence in the hardwood forests of the Eastern US, making up 1/4 the total tree growth. Known as the “sequoias of the east”,  the trees were some of the tallest in the forest, growing quickly to more than 100 feet high with 10-foot diameters and enormous canopies. An American chestnut tree in West Virginia, 1923. Image: Forest History Society, Durham, N.C. In 1904, Asian chestnut trees were imported to the US, bringing with them a blight, Cryphonectria parasitica,  which would destroy over 99% percent of native chestnut trees by 1950. Today, only a few dozen mature American chestnuts survive of the nearly 4 billion which once thrived in the Eastern US. American chestnuts were highly valued for both their beauty and the vital resources they provided wildlife and humans alike. Their nuts and fruits were the most important source of food for a variety of the forest’s animals, including many species of birds and mammals. Rural communities also harvested the nuts and fruits, and relied heavily on the tree’s wood, whose straight-grain and drought-resistance made it particularly useful for fences, roofs, and railway lines. American Chestnut from Francois Andre Michaux’s North American Sylva. (1810-1813). Image: The New York Public Library Digital Collections. Since the 1980s, great efforts have been made by The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) who have been working on breeding American chestnut trees which can to survive the blight and thrive once more in their native forests. We feel incredibly privileged to have received five of blight-resistant seedlings, which were harvested by the TACF. Our American chestnut seedlings sent by the NYS Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. To learn more about the important work being done by The American Chestnut Foundation and to become a member, visit their website at Carolina supervising the historic planting in the Carlton Hobbs garden.