I was thrilled yesterday morning to find a beautiful, golden leaf on my doorstep and later in the afternoon to find another, this one dried and brown but of the same species, on the sidewalk in front of our house. Both were from the pair of American Chestnut trees I planted nearby. I can imagine that the last time there were leaves of this species here was over a hundred years ago!
The American Chestnut once made up more than 25% of the forest east of the Mississippi River. They provided not only lumber but food for many species of animals and birds as well as humans. In the early 1900s a blight made its way here from China and now fewer than 100 trees larger than 24″ in diameter probably exist.
Fortunately several can be found in Central Vermont, though one seems to have succumbed to blight this summer. These trees were the ones that provided seed from which my two have grown so they too are susceptible to blight. But they both flowered heavily this summer, a good sign even if they did not produce a first crop of nuts.
The American Chestnut Foundation is doing great work developing varieties that are blight resistant. Even if the tree will never again be such a significant part of our forest, it would be wonderful to have more Chestnuts—and their nuts and leaves—in the woods around us! What a great joy it is to find the first of these visitors returning to my yard!