The American Chestnut (castenea dentate) has been one of the most important trees in American history and one of the finest trees in the world. It is a deciduous tree in the beech family and before the 20th century existed all throughout the eastern United States. Alas in the early 1900s fungal blight from imported Asian chestnut trees was introduced and wiped out an estimated 3-4 million trees. Today it can be found from Maine and southern Ontario to Mississippi roughly following the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio River Valley and a few imported colonies on the west coast. The chestnut tree can reach around 100 feet in height but those trees are exceedingly rare except on the west coast, where the cooler temperatures help to keep the blight away. It can be identified by its large, saw-toothed leaves.
The tree produces a great deal of nuts, perfect for roasting on an open fire at Christmas time. The nuts are enjoyed by white-tailed deer, bears, and wild turkeys.
Since the 1970s there have been several attempts to repopulate the species and mix the genes of the tree to make it blight resistant, which was finally perfected in 2015.
Chestnuts have long been an important food source not only for wildlife but for people as well. Native Americans also used them to treat ailments ranging from whooping cough to heart conditions. With the wood being straight-grained, strong, and easy to split it was ideal for making furniture in the 1800s as well as fences, shingles, flooring, plywood, piers, and telephone poles. The tree is rich in tannins which can be extracted to help tan leather.
The tree today is fashionable for its rustic character and the only way it can be foudn due to its scarcity is through reclaimed wood from barns.