American Chestnuts — Found

In 1904, ornamental Chinese chestnut trees were imported and planted at the Bronx Zoo. These non-native trees carried a fungus, to which they had a high level of resistance. At this time, American chestnut trees made up a significant part of the eastern forests from New England and southern Canada down to the southeastern U.S. Numbering in the billions of individual trees, this was an important species: comprising up to a quarter of the trees in many forests, up to 45 m (100 ft) tall, with a trunk diameter of up to 3 m (10 ft). The nuts provided food for deer, wild turkeys, and black bears. The American trees were devastated by the blight. The species did not go extinct because stumps survived, which still put up new shoots. These saplings, however, succumb to the fungus in a few years.

A news article today reports that a grove of 20 to 30-year old American Chestnuts has been found in Georgia, the extreme southern end of their natural range. This increases hope that someday, fungus-resistant American chestnuts may make a comeback.

The Chestnut problem is typical of the ecological problems caused by our global culture. The list of introduced pests and diseases is long: zebra mussels clogging streams and lakes in the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi drainage, rabbits taking over rangeland in Australia, the Mediterranean fruit fly. One serious infestation of the Med fly in California was believed to have been started with one unauthorized apple carried into the state on an airplane; the eradication program cost hundreds of millions of dollars. (I couldn’t find a reference for this–it comes from the dark corners of my brain; I hope I got the facts straight).

Grace and Peace

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