American Chestnut Castanea dentata (Marshall) BorkhausenS2S3 (State rare)    
Kingdom Plantae   >   Division Tracheophyta   >   Class Magnoliopsida   >   Order Fagales   >   Family Fagaceae   >   Genus Castanea   

Status:

American Chestnut, once a magnificent and valuable tree, has an iconic reputation as a former dominant of the eastern deciduous forest. It may never have been dominant in two-thirds of the eastern forest region prior to European settlement, however. It reached its greatest abundance in a part of the Appalachian Mountains and was a dominant species in parts of its central and southern range, that is, primarily the oak-chestnut region of E. Lucy Braun (1950), but it was less dominant and widespread than many other tree species (Faison and Foster, 2014). In the early twentieth century, a blight caused by an Asian fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, killed many of the chestnut trees, or, at best, left only the roots alive. Many roots are still sending up sprouts, only to have them struck down repeatedly by blight, typically before they are old enough to flower and set fruit. Although attempts to breed blight-resistant trees through crosses and backcrosses with Chinese Chestnut, and other methods, have produced trees that genetically are mostly American Chestnut, the introduction of genetically modified American Chestnuts into the landscape is controversial.

Description:

American Chestnut is now typically a small tree, often surrounded by dead sprouts that have succumbed to the blight. It occasionally reaches maturity and produces fruits, however.

Where to find:

In Maryland, American Chestnut, occurring mainly as root sprouts in forested areas, is most common in the western two-thirds of the state (Brown and Brown, 1972). It is also found, uncommonly, on the Coastal Plain.

Relationships:

Host plant for various butterfly species including Banded Hairstreak.

Host plant for various moth species including Pseudexentera faracana, Filbertworm Moth, American Dagger Moth, Banded Tussock Moth, and Angulose Prominent Moth (Database of World's Lepidopteran Host Plants, Miller et al., 2018).

Before the blight, American Chestnut was an ecological powerhouse. Because it flowered relatively late in the spring, after the early-blooming plants had finished, and produced copious amounts of pollen, it was a pollinator magnet. It even had its own bee, the Chestnut Bee (Andrena rehni) (Sam Droege, pers. comm.). Its nuts were favored by a wide variety of wildlife.

The leaves of American Chestnut are susceptible to damage, sometimes considerable, by the Asiatic Oak Weevil. Former host to the now extinct Greater Chestnut Weevil.

There are 222 records in the project database.

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A young American Chestnut in Queen Anne's Co., Maryland (5/2/2016). Photo by Dan Small. (MBP list)

An American Chestnut in Garrett Co., Maryland (6/16/2019). Photo by William Blauvelt. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Garrett Co., Maryland (7/12/2014). Photo by Bill Hubick. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Prince George's Co., Maryland (7/7/2015). Photo by Bill Harms. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Washington Co., Maryland (6/16/2018). (c) kwixted0, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC). Photo by Kerry Wixted. (MBP list)

American Chestnut shoots from a blight- and weather-felled tree in Garrett Co., Maryland (5/29/2014). Photo by Matt Tillett. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Garrett Co., Maryland (6/28/2015). Photo by Jim Brighton. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Garrett Co., Maryland (5/29/2014). Photo by Matt Tillett. (MBP list)

American Chestnut growing in Howard Co., Maryland (7/4/2016). Photo by Robert Ferraro. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Allegany Co., Maryland (5/19/2019). Photo by Josh Emm. (MBP list)

A young American Chestnut found growing in Blackbird State Forest, Delaware (6/19/2011). Photo by Jim Brighton. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Anne Arundel Co., Maryland (8/21/2012). Microscopic view of wood grain from the tree. Photo by Gary Carver with permission. Photo by Bill Harms. (MBP list)

American Chestnut growing in Baltimore Co., Maryland (11/23/2017). Photo by Mark Eanes. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Baltimore Co., Maryland (5/18/2014). Photo by Dwight Johnson. (MBP list)

American Chestnut with fruit in Garrett Co., Maryland (8/23/2013). Photo by Boyer and McDowell. (MBP list)

Bill Harms standing next to a dead American Chestnut in Anne Arundel Co., Maryland (8/21/2012). Photo by Bill Harms. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Anne Arundel Co., Maryland (8/21/2012). Determination verified by Gary Carver, American Chestnut Foundation. Photo by Bill Harms. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Montgomery Co., Maryland (10/23/2016). Photo by Jane Hill. (MBP list)

American Chestnut in Montgomery Co., Maryland (10/20/2016). Photo by Bill Hill. (MBP list)


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