The majestic American chestnut (Castenea dentata x molissima B6 cross) was largely obliterated by a blight accidentally imported from Asia at the beginning of the 20th century although some trees have survived the devastation. In 1904 a blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, (formerly called Endothia parasitica) was introduced along the East Coast of North America and spread to destroy American chestnut trees, C. dentata, (as the Dutch Elm disease did to the American elms). The fungus attacks larger trees so American chestnuts grow to the size of a shrub before the stems are killed. But since the roots survive, the stems regrow until they are hit again. With a hybridizing technique called back crossing seedlings that are mostly American chestnut but blight resistant have been developed to revive the American chestnut population.C. mollissima is not immune to chestnut blight but is resistant.
The American Chestnut Tree Foundation donatedthree of these hybrids to the Marquand Park Foundation in 2014 in honor of their 60th anniversary . The seedlings have all survived but are growing at very different rates. The largest one looks almost like a small tree while the smallest one is still the size of a large plant. A bookmark in honor of the American chestnut has been made available at the Tree library in the park. For more information about the backcross breeding project of the American Chestnut Foundation, please consult www.acf.org.
Most of the Castanea species arose from southern Europe, SW and E Asia and Eastern North America. In Europe the common chestnut is the sweet, Spanish or European Chestnut, C sativa. The Romans valued this tree as a source of food and introduced it to many parts of their Empire including Britain. It is also sensitive to the chestnut blight. The genus name is derived from the town of Castania in Thessaly where the trees reportedly grew in abundance. Mollissima come from the Latin root for “soft”, in reference to the pubescent twigs and leaf undersides.
Provenance: American Chestnut Society. Planted in 2014
Marquand Park Specimen Label and Coordinates: MP #737
Species Origin: Korea and China from Beijing to Yunnan.
New Jersey Status: USDA Introduced
Habit: Medium sized, low-branched typically 40’ tall. Rounded in shape as young tree but broader at maturity with low branches.
Habitat: Zone 4 -8
Trunk/Stem: Bark gray brown, strongly ridged and furrowed.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. Elliptic oblong to oblong-lanceolate; apex acuminate; base cuneate; leaf margin coarsely toothed; adaxial surface lustrous, dark green; abaxial surface lighter green and pubescent. Each leaf margin tooth is linked to a vein running to the midrib. Leaves turn various shade of yellow in fall.
Flowers: Monoecious; pale yellow or creamy of heavy unpleasant odor. Staminate in erect cylindrical catkins; pistillate (female) flowers found on the bottom part of the catkin, staminate (male) flowers found on the upper part of the catkin. Bloom time June.
Fruits and seeds: 2 – 3 nuts (seeds) enclosed in a prickly involucre (the fruit) which splits at maturity into 2 – 4 valves. Nuts edible.