In 2019, a hunter named Bret Lanan found what he thought was a mature American chestnut tree on the Coverdale Farm Preserve in Centreville, Delaware. It is about 50 years old, 70 feet tall, and at least 35 inches in diameter.
It doesn't seem like such a find would be impressive, but it actually is. A recent article written by Shannon Marvel McNaught in the Delaware News Journal, part of the USA Today Network, told about the remarkable find.
It is estimated that there once were about four billion American chestnut trees in forests of the eastern United States. That changed after a chestnut blight in New York infected the trees. The blight spread fast, and it wiped out most of the trees.
It didn't kill the roots, so new trees sprouted from the damaged trees' roots. Unfortunately, the blight attacked the sprouts, and they died young. Most American chestnut trees that did manage to survive are only an inch or less in diameter.
Today, the American chestnut tree is considered functionally extinct. So when Lanan found the chestnut tree on the Coverdale Farm Preserve, it was an important find. At first, there was concern the tree might be cross-pollinated with a Chinese chestnut, a common ornamental plant that hasn't been affected by the blight.
Once experts determined it really was an American chestnut tree, the Delaware Nature Society called the tree a precious resource. Not many people get a chance to see such a big American chestnut tree any more.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Village Blacksmith, describes the blacksmith as a mighty man standing "under a spreading chestnut tree." Except in pictures, most people wouldn't know what such a tree really looked like.
Now, thanks to hunter Bret Lanan's discovery, at least one huge American chestnut tree can still be seen. The farm preserve may give the tree some protection. Though it managed to escape the blight, it would be a shame for the tree to be damaged by curious people who might unintentionally harm it.
The Delaware Nature Society plans to collect its seeds this fall, and a plant-focused nonprofit, Mt. Cuba Center, has agreed to plant the seeds. They hope their efforts will help to bring the famous spreading chestnut tree back to more abundant life.