american chestnut leaf
The leaf you see to the right is that of an American Chestnut (Castanea dentata). I found this leaf last year in an Arbortoreum in Wyckoff, NJ. The American Chestnut is one of the most rare trees that you could find in this area. It wasn’t always so hard to find. The tree used to be ubiquitous among nature. Almost every one of these trees was killed off by a disease in the early 1900’s.

In 1904 the American Chestnuts were nearly wiped out by an Asian bark fungus commonly called Chestnut blight. The fungus was introduced either by imported lumber, or an imported Japanese or Chinese Chestnut. By 1940, the American Chestnut population was devastated and nearly 3 billion trees nationwide were killed, only a few small pockets remain. This tree once dominated the skyline, growing from 100 – 150 ft tall and having a DBH (diameter at breast height) of 10 ft.

So how did I find this tree nearly 70 years after an almost mass extinction. The twig that I pulled this leaf off of was a shoot growing out of an old stump. A stump of an American Chestnut that was trying to regrow itself. The unfortunate truth is that this twig has no chance of surviving. The bark fungus in a few years will kill the tree’s cambium, and the tree will die. There are only a few of these trees still surviving, and seem to be resistant to the blight.

As an arborist, I can just wait and see if this tree can be reintroduced to nature in a big way. Some surviving trees give me a large amount of hope that some American Chestnuts are resistant and maybe even immune to the blight.

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