The American chestnut was once a common tree in the forests of the Eastern United States; it ranged from Georgia to Maine and from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, including parts of Long Island. In the heart of its range, on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, it was a dominate tree species, growing over 100 feet tall and earning its moniker as the "Redwood of the East". But an Asian chestnut tree imported into New York in the late 1800s carried a fungus that would change everything. Although the fungus only sickened Asian chestnuts, it was fatal to their American cousins. The "Chestnut Blight" as it came to be known, was first noticed in the Bronx Botanical Garden in 1904. Within fifty years, it spread across the American chestnut's entire range, killing as many as 4 billion trees and nearly driving the tree into extinction. But the saga isn't over yet. Almost since the blight started, scientists have kept the species on life support, while feverishly working to figure out a way to beat the blight. The effort, led by the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), includes work to foster natural resistance, extensive crossbreeding, even genetic bioengineering.
Seatuck represents the American Chestnut Foundation on Long Island and is part of a broad effort to restore the American chestnut. Seatuck manages the Long Island region of the New York Chapter of ACF and works to maintain the genetic viability of Long Island's few remaining American chestnuts. We identify and pollinate existing trees, trying to coax out a few viable nuts before the blight catches up to them. The nuts are then planted and young saplings watched until they are mature enough to flower, bear nuts and start the cycle over again. The goal is to keep this "Long Island stock" going until the scientists come up with a solution to the blight.
What to do if you found a tree?
If you have found a tree on Long Island and wish to see if it is a pure American Chestnut check out our identification document with pictures of American Chestnut leaves and their tells. If after checking the leaves you think you have found an American Chestnut please submit a picture of the tree, picture of the leaves and the GPS coordinates (these are available in the compass app of any smartphone) in this submission form (coming soon).
How to Identify an American Chestnut Tree
Identifying the American chestnut is not as simple as it might seem. There are several other chestnut species that have been introduced to our region and several non-chestnut species with similar characteristics. And then there's hybridization to worry about! Seatuck has set up a simple American chestnut identification page to help people through the process.