Spread of Chestnut Blight

Chestnut blight affected more tree species than the American chestnut.

pile of American chestnuts

In 1905, scientists discovered a new fungus attacking American chestnuts at a New York zoo. At first officials weren’t concerned, but then the chestnut blight spread rapidly.

Photo By Diane Guthrie

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The chestnut blight is best known for wiping out most of the American chestnuts, but that tree species wasn’t the only casualty. It also destroyed more than 99 percent of a related nut tree, the Ozark chinquapin. Growing rapidly and bearing small, round nuts singly in the burr, Ozark chinquapin trees were once common on well-drained hillsides throughout the lower Midwestern and upper Southern states. By 1975, the chinquapin trees had almost all died back to the roots, only to send up new shoots that would grow for a few years before succumbing yet again to the blight.

In the last 10 years, foresters Stephen Bost and Kip Mourglia have identified a few trees that seem to have some resistance or tolerance to the blight. They seek to find thriving chinquapin trees in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, propagate the species, and provide blight-resistant nuts for planting.

So far, several dozen large trees have been identified as being somewhat resistant, and hundreds of new trees have been planted. With good soil drainage, the new trees have a good chance of escaping blight and root rot, and slowly restoring the tree species in the United States.

Read more: Discover how thousands of volunteers around the country are working together to keep the American chestnut alive in Preserving the American Chestnut.