Fingers Crossed for Chestnut Revival

A few years ago I had the good fortune to run across a supply of wormy chestnut lumber. The tree was felled here in Ohio, and the gentleman who owned the lumber remembered where the tree had stood in the 1920s when he was a boy. The boards were thick and wide—virgin timber that can’t be replaced. After significant consternation, and with much care, I decided to use that lumber to build a tool chest for my shop. We ran it as a project in our June 2008 print magazine.

Among many varieties of lumber I’ve had the chance to build with, this chestnut is the most special to me. You probably already know that American chestnut trees have been all but extinct in this country since the middle of the last century. Massive forests of native chestnut, which once covered much of the eastern part of the United States, were wiped out by a blight that came here from Asia around 1904. Within a period of only 50 years or so, it decimated the species, leaving stands of dead trees in its wake.

The blight continues to weaken and kill the few remaining native chestnut saplings that spring up from old stumps today.

Well, thanks to the ongoing efforts of committed conservationists and the marvels of genetic engineering, American chestnut trees may once again grow tall. Here’s an interesting article that recently ran in The Washington Post documenting the continuing efforts to cross American and Chinese strains of chestnuts to develop a blight-resistant variety of tree:

So far, the prognosis seems extremely promising for “next generation” chestnuts. We won’t see them reach maturity in our lifetimes, more than likely, but with luck our children will. I’m also really encouraged to learn that these trees may even help restore landscape lost to strip mining activity in Appalachia. There’s a “win/win” situation all around!

I still have some of that old timber in the shop, and it takes a really special project for me to consider using what’s left of it. But someday, chestnut just might come full circle and end up gracing beautiful new projects once again. I think that’s pretty inspiring.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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