American Chestnut

The fungus historically most destructive to the upland hardwood forest is Endothia parasitica, the agent that causes the chestnut blight. Before the lethal fungus' entry into the Port of New York in 1904 and its discovery in Virginia in 1907, one-fourth of the trees in much of the Southern Appalachian Mountains were probably American chestnut. Tolerant of most sites within its range from the infertile mountain ridges to the rich fertile valleys; the tree was of especially high value.

Even until the 1930s, chestnut was a predominant species throughout much of the Appalachian chain. The most versatile tree species of the region, its health was not much affected by insects or diseases (except a singular case subsequently noted). Its attractive wood, ideal for furniture and interior trim, did not warp or twist. Its toughness made it useful structural timber. Its durability when in contact with the soil or exposed to the elements made the wood useful for split-rail fencing, posts, and pilings, as well as for shakes and shingles for roofs and siding. The high tannin content supported a tannic acid extract industry that, in turn, provided the chemical required for treating leather. Chestnut's edible fruit pleased both man and wildlife; its aesthetically pleasing form was valued for landscaping (as in William Wadsworth Longfellow's "Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village (black) smithy stands ..."); it regenerated rapidly from both seeds and sprouts; and, as noted earlier, it grew on sites ranging from fertile coves to relatively unproductive ridges.

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