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Guest column: Restoring Brunswick’s American chestnut trees

Portland Press Herald 4 Aug 2022

By Jim St. Pierre and Dennis Wilson

For generations, American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) fed people and wildlife throughout eastern North America. Up to 4 billion chestnut trees populated woodlands from southern Maine to northern Florida, and west to the Mississippi River.

These “Redwoods of the East Coast” filled the forest canopy, towering up to 100 feet with a girth of 9 feet around. They were an essential keystone species in the ecosystem of the entire eastern U.S. In many areas, one of every four trees was a chestnut.

American chestnuts fed birds, mammals and people. Millions of animals relied on the nuts as a highly nutritious food source. Railroad cars full of chestnuts supplied cities with nuts to roast over an open fire during the year-end holiday season. Chestnut trees were turned into railroad ties and telegraph poles by the hundreds of thousands. The clear, straight-grained, rot-resistant wood was used for construction, furniture, kitchen bowls, even coffins. Hundreds of millions of chestnut board feet were milled each year. The fast-growing trees were also planted for shade in urban areas. The American chestnut became known as the “cradle-to-grave” tree for its wide variety of uses and benefits. It was considered the perfect tree.

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