Skip Navigation
Regional News
An estimated 4 billion chestnut trees grew between Maine and Georgia, before they were wiped out by the blight, according to the American Chestnut Foundation. Today, they're estimated at fewer than 100 in their native range. Photo: Rajiv Narula
An estimated 4 billion chestnut trees grew between Maine and Georgia, before they were wiped out by the blight, according to the American Chestnut Foundation. Today, they're estimated at fewer than 100 in their native range. Photo: Rajiv Narula

Heard Up North: Bringing a tree back to life

Listen to this story
In the beginning of last century, a blight wiped out almost all of the chestnut trees, and today you're almost as likely to come across a unicorn as you are a fully grown, productive American Chestnut Tree.

One of those "unicorns" is in North Russell, planted twenty-seven years ago by Todd and Nancy Alessi. In bloom, it looks right out of a Doctor Seuss book: with flowers, called catkins, like white pipe cleaners. Todd and Nancy invited reporter Natasha Haverty to their chestnut tree flowering party.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this


The American Chestnut tree once made up a fourth of the forest canopy between Maine and Georgia. For a long time the entire Eastern part of the country depended on the tree—its fruit was the most important food source for all sorts of wildlife, from birds to bears, and humans relied on its wood for everything from fence posts, to houses, to musical instruments.

Male flowers, called catkins, in full bloom. Photo: Rajiv Narula
Male flowers, called catkins, in full bloom. Photo: Rajiv Narula
To their amazement the Alessi’s American Chestnut has grown into a full, blossoming, productive tree. It stands at about sixty feet tall, with a low, thick green canopy.

Todd says, “It’s just like a miracle that this tree is of this size now. They usually would have died by now.”

Todd says each of these burrs has three seeds tucked inside. Photo: Rajiv Narula
Todd says each of these burrs has three seeds tucked inside. Photo: Rajiv Narula
Todd and Nancy’s success has provided many with the hopes that this species could eventually be restored. During the blight, people assumed the species could not survive and began cutting down the infected trees. This speeded the disappearance of the species in the United States.

From the seven American Chestnut seeds he originally procured, Todd was able to successfully grow seven viable trees.

Todd and Nancy expect the tree to flower again at the end of June. Photo: Nancy Alessi
Todd and Nancy expect the tree to flower again at the end of June. Photo: Nancy Alessi
Last fall, he harvested 260 more seeds. He kept them in the refrigerator over the winter, and now 255 of them have sprouted. Todd says, “These things have an amazing life force.”

People are unsure why these trees get the blight. Todd says, “We’d like to think it’s just one of those mysteries.” But there's hope that the North Country will someday see these beloved trees in abundance again.

 

 

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.