Chestnut Hill Outdoors: The Dunstan Chestnut Story

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Columbus, GA -(AmmoLand.com)- This is the story of one of the worst ecological disasters ever to hit North America.

And it's the story of how hunters have a chance to mitigate that disaster – and greatly improve the mast production of their own hunting land – thanks to Chestnut Hill Nursery & Orchards.

It is said that in the 1700s a squirrel could have run through treetops from Illinois to Delaware without ever having to touch the ground – that's how extensive and dense the primeval forest was in the eastern third of North America. Today, if you stop at a lookout over the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, you might think that you are catching a glimpse of what the forest must have been like.

But you'd be wrong: what you see is a very different, and much less productive, kind of forest. That's because in the 1700s, 25 percent of all trees – and a higher percentage of the biggest trees – were American Chestnuts.

Today, American Chestnuts are almost extinct. Once the source of the highest quality mast for game animals and birds – and one that was much preferred by deer, turkeys, bears and even passenger pigeons over acorns – they have effectively vanished from the landscape.

That's because in 1904, a fungus blight was inadvertently introduced to North America when some Asian chestnut trees – which themselves are resistant to the blight, but carry it – were offloaded on a New York dock. In two years most of the American Chestnuts in the Bronx were dead, and from then on the blight spread about 50 miles per year, killing virtually all American Chestnuts in its path. Within 40 years some 30 million acres of forest were affected, and eventually, between 3 and 3.5 billion American Chestnut trees vanished.

Then, in the 1950s, a single apparently healthy American Chestnut tree was discovered in Ohio in the middle of a grove of dying trees. The healthy tree, even when inoculated with fungus spores, showed no signs of disease. Dr. Robert T. Dunstan, a well-known plant breeder in Greensboro, N.C., acquired some bud stock from that tree and grafted the scions onto chestnut rootstock. The trees grew well. He cross-pollinated one with a mixture of 3 superior USDA released Chinese chestnut selections: “Kuling, ” “Meiling,” and “Nanking.” Dunstan crossed the results back to American and Asian trees -to breed a chestnut tree resistant to the blight but which also had the superior nut quality of the American Chestnut.

The strongest of his trees were sent to Chestnut Hill nursery and orchard, where they were further improved. Today some of Chestnut Hill's healthy chestnut trees are over 50 years old. Chestnut Hill now sells trees to orchardists – and, increasingly, to hunters who want to improve habitat for game animals on their land.

If you are trying to improve the wildlife habitat on your land for the long term, Chestnut Hill chestnut trees deserve serious consideration. Chestnuts produce more mast per acre than any other native tree. Chestnuts also produce strong crops annually, unlike most oak species, which tend to cycle through heavy and lean years. Chestnuts contain 40 percent carbohydrates and 5 to 10 percent protein, and they are sweet (rather than tannic like acorns). They are a preferred food of turkeys and deer. In fact, if you roast chestnuts, they'll feed you, too.

Chestnut trees are also long-lived: if you plant them now, your habitat improvement becomes a legacy that will outlive you – and that's not something you can say about other food plots.

About Chestnut Hill Outdoors:

Chestnut Hill is the best place for you to purchase your food plot and deer attractant plants because they offer a large selection, their plants are specifically bred to attract deer, and they offer customers different sized plants at different levels of growth.

For more information, please visit www.chestnuthilloutdoors.com.

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Robert Bolino
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Robert Bolino

Love it! What a war cry, Bring back the Chestnut!!!!

JohnC
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JohnC

Great information, I was not aware of the blight and the usefulness to game. I will investigate planting some immediately.