Subscribe




The Giving Tree

The American chestnut makes a comeback.

Ron Cassie - December 2017

The Giving Tree

The American chestnut makes a comeback.

Ron Cassie - December 2017

Get Baltimore Daily.

Sign up today and you'll get our latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday afternoon.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Eastern United States was covered in billions of chestnut trees. In some places, such as the Appalachian Mountains and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where they thrived in sandy soil, one-quarter of all hardwoods were the majestic chestnut, known as the “Redwoods of the East,” as some stood more than 100 feet tall. 

Chestnuts produced uniquely rot-resistant timber, and, for three centuries, most homes east of the Mississippi River were built out of their wood. In the summer, so many trees burst into white blossoms that whole swaths of countryside appeared to be draped in cotton. And each fall, so many ripe nuts fell to the ground that they became a staple of the Native-American diet and, later, a roasted holiday favorite, even celebrated in song. 

“There was nothing like the American chestnut,” says Gary Carver, president of the Maryland chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation. Then they all began dying.

A crippling fungal pathogen accidently imported from Asia spread rapidly from Maine to Georgia, and by 1950 the blight had all but eliminated the ancient species. “It’s been called one of the greatest forest losses in history,” says Carver, noting that most living Americans have never seen a chestnut. 

But remarkably, six decades after their near extinction, the trees appear to be on the cusp of a comeback, including in Maryland, where 250 volunteers oversee 16 orchards dedicated to bringing them back to life. Since the 1980s, the TACF has been breeding a handful of surviving American chestnuts with naturally fungus-resistant Chinese chestnuts. They then “backcross” the successful trees over several generations with the intention of one day creating viable hybrids that are 94 percent American chestnut. 

With breeding orchards now in nine local counties, Carver says Maryland is getting close to producing its own new fungus-resistant chestnuts. 

“The process takes six generations, but the trees grow quickly,” says Carver, a retired physicist and bird-carving woodworker. “I’m confident we’ll see American chestnuts in the forest again, hosting squirrels and blue jays.”




You May Also Like

The Chatter

Baltimore is No. 15 on New York Times List of Places to Visit in 2018

Citing cultural and historical events, the newspaper puts our city in some great company.

Travel & Outdoors

Winter Break

End cabin fever with 10 winter trips for the whole family.

The Chatter

Here’s What We’d Like to See in the New Penn Station

Penn Station Partners will be refreshing the century-old train station.



Outside World

How to Build a Kitty Condo to Keep Stray Cats Warm This Winter

A step-by-step tutorial to provide neighborhood cats a safe shelter.


Connect With Us

Most Read


BMA’s New African Art Exhibit Explores Humans’ Relationship With Birds: The earthy, exotic exhibit Beyond Flight is on display through June 17.

Tips to Stay Safe, Warm, and Energy Efficient This Winter: From home hacks to pet care, here are ways to keep warm.

Atlas Restaurant Group to Open Pizza Joint in Former Bagby Space: The ’80s-themed Italian Disco will combine mozzarella with music.

The Rowhouse Grille Hosts LLS Fundraiser Honoring Alex Wroblewski: The 41-year-old Locust Point resident was fatally shot outside of Royal Farms in November.

Joseph Kohl Photography Exhibit is Spontaneous and Beautiful: Maryland Historical Society celebrates one of Baltimore’s most distinctive photojournalists and artists.