THE MOST IMPORTANT TREE
IN AMERICAN HISTORY
The American chestnut was
the most important food and timber trees species in the Eastern hardwood
forest. It was almost completely destroyed by a bark fungus accidentally
introduced from the Orient in 1904. Within 40 years, over 30 million acres of
chestnut trees were killed from Maine to Georgia and west to the Mississippi.
This tragedy was easily the worst ecological disaster in American history.
The chestnut was an
amazingly useful tree: its plentiful nuts were eaten by people, game and wildlife,
its beautiful, rot-resistant lumber was used for everything from furniture to
fence posts, and its tannin was used in the tanning industry. The loss of the
chestnut, at the time of the Great Depression, had a devastating effect on the
people and wildlife of the Appalachian mountains. The economic loss from the
chestnut's demise amounted to untold millions of dollars.
THE DUNSTAN CHESTNUT
Castanea dentata X mollissima
In the early 1950s, James
Carpentar of Salem, Ohio, discovered a large living American chestnut in a
grove of dead and dying trees. A member of the Northern Nut Growers
Association, Carpentar was very impressed with the tree as it showed no
evidence of blight infection. Over the next several years, he inoculated the
tree with active blight spores and mycelia, but failed to induce any infection
in the tree.
Carpentar sent budwood
to Dr. Robert T. Dunstan, a fellow member of NNGA and well-known plant
breeder in Greensboro, N.C. Dunstan grafted the scions onto chestnut
rootstock and the trees grew well. He cross-pollinated the American grafts
with a mixture of 3 superior USDA released Chinese chestnut selections:
"Kuling," "Meiling," and "Nanking."
Article written about Dr. Robert T. Dunstan
In 1962, seedling trees
from the first cross began to bear. Selecting the individuals with the most
hybrid characteristics, Dr. Dunstan crossed them back to both the American and
Chinese parent trees. The resulting second generation was moved to Alachua in
north central Florida, on our nursery property, where the trees have been
growing and bearing every year for almost 50 years! These hybrid trees have been grown throughout much of the eastern United states, and almost none have every died from the blight.
Starting in 1984 we
planted a grove of 500 trees using both grafts from the best of the second
generation trees and a third generation of seedling Dunstans, many of which are
now over 50' tall and 16-20" in diameter.
BLIGHT RESISTANCE AND BEST NUT PRODUCTION
The second generation of
Dunstan Hybrid Chestnuts shows a variable combination of American and Chinese
traits. They are not a particular % of American or Chinese parentage.
We have chosen several
cultivars that have the very best combination of nut and tree characteristics –
blight resistance and the production of large high quality nuts. These Dunstan
Chestnuts are the only chestnuts to ever receive U.S. Plant Patents. We
only produce trees grown from seed from this orchard of the best trees. Because
the parent trees all are blight resistant and produce large, sweet tasting
nuts, a very high percentage of these seedling trees also bear excellent quality
nuts. Grown correctly, they will form a good timber tree capable of producing beautiful rot-resistant saw timber.
RESISTANT TO CHESTNUT
Dunstan Chestnuts have
been tested for resistance by inoculation with blight. No significant canker
formation was observed for 4 years. Limited growth of the blight cankers was
seen on only a few trees and, in most cases, the inoculation wound healed
Reports from growers at thousands
of locations around the U.S., from New England to Michigan, south to Florida
and Texas have shown that the Dunstan Chestnuts have
excellent survival, growth and nut production in a variety of climates,
from Zones 5-9.
Chestnuts can survive average minimum lows of -20F when fully dormant, but can be damaged by early fall and late spring freezes.
Many chestnut trees sold in the
U.S. are not blight resistant, such as seedling American chestnuts, or European
x Japanese hybrids (including Collosal). Blight resistance is extremely important, even in areas
that currently do not have blight. Accidental outbreak can destroy susceptible
trees. In blighted areas (the entire eastern U.S.), only blight-resistant trees will
Dunstan Chestnuts seedlings produce
heavy yearly crops of very large and sweet-tasting nuts. The nuts average 15-35
nuts/lb, as compared to Chinese nuts (35-100/lb) and American nuts (75-150/lb).
They are much better tasting than imported European nuts and are never bland or
bitter. The nuts peel easily, unlike imports, that have clinging and ingrown
pellicles (seed coats). The nuts ripen in September and October and most fall
free from the burrs for easy harvesting. Dunstan Chestnuts can produce
nuts in only 3-5 years of age of the tree depending on care and climate they receive after planting. Trees planted in colder regions such as USDA zone 5, may bear between 5-7 years of age.
THE RETURN OF THE CHESTNUT
The blight-resistant (not-immune) Dunstan Chestnuts make possible the re-establishment of chestnut trees to the
forests and creation of a chestnut orchard industry in North America.