This Week’s Endangered Species in Focus: American Chestnut

Description:

The American Chestnut is a tall deciduous tree that formerly reached about 30 metres in height; however, trees in Ontario are now typically only 5-10 metres tall. Chestnut trees have both male and female flowers but cannot self-pollinate. The fruit is a spiny bur-like husk enclosing one to five edible nuts. The nuts develop through late summer, with the burrs opening and falling to the ground near the first fall frost. Don’t be confused, the following trees are commonly mistaken with the American Chestnut:

1) The Horse Chestnut;

2) Chestnut Oak & Chinkapin Oak ; and

3) Beech

Status: Endangered Provincially and Nationally

Important Dates:

June 30, 2008: Species Listed as Endangered

June 30, 2013: Species Granted Habitat Protection

Range:

  • Was widespread in eastern North America, but now primarily restricted to southwestern Ontario;
  • Based on data dated 2004, it was estimated that there was 120 to 150 mature trees and 1,000 young trees in the province

Habitat:

  • Prefers dryer upland deciduous forests with sandy, acidic to neutral soils;
  • In Ontario, it is only found in the Carolinian Zone between Lake Erie and Lake Huron;
  • Will grow alongside the Red Oak, Black Cherry, Sugar Maple and American Beech trees

Threats:

  • The epidemic called chestnut blight, has and continues to have a drastic impact on the American Chestnut population

o   Chestnut Blight: a fungus accidentally introduced to North America from Asia in the early 1900s killing 99% of the American Chestnut trees within 30 years;

  • Habitat loss due to forest clearing and damage to trees during logging operations;

Protection:

  • A recovery team was formed in 1988 to conduct research to identify blight-resistant (some remaining trees have shown resistance) species. The key to recovery may be the successful propagation and planting of a disease resistant stock;
  • Protected under the Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007

What Can You Do to Help:

  • The Canadian Chestnut Council is a scientific and charitable organization dedicated to the protection and recovery of American Chestnut in southern Ontario. Find out more here

FUN FACTS:

  • Aboriginal people used the American Chestnut for treating numerous ailments (coughs, dermatitis and heart trouble), as a staple food, to build shelters, for firewood and a source of dye; and
  • The American Chestnut has been referred as the “bread tree” because their nuts are so high in starch that they can be milled into flour; they can also be roasted, boiled, dried or candied; and
  • About 2,500 chestnut trees are growing on 60 acres near West Salem, Wisconsin – this is the world’s largest remaining stand of American chestnut
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