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An Endangered Species


American Chestnut 1912
American chestnut
(Castanea dentata)
near St. Williams, ON., ca. 1912

The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was once one of North America’s most important forest trees. The wood, easily worked and durable, was used for interior trim, furniture, as well as for posts and fencing. Some split rail fences constructed early in this century are sill standing. The annual chestnut crop made it important to the forest community, providing a reliable food source for wildlife as well as early settlers. Although the nuts are smaller than other kinds of chestnut, they are very delicious. True chestnuts are sometimes confused with Horse chestnuts and Buckeyes (Aesculus species) which have compound leaves and inedible nuts.

  • The natural range of the American chestnut is in the Carolinian region of eastern North America, and extends from southeastern Michigan through southern Ontario to Maine, and south to Georgia. Chestnut commonly made up to 25 percent of mixed stands and formed pure stands on many dry ridgetops of the Appalachians.
    The edible nuts of American chestnut
  • Until the 1940′s, American chestnut was a prevalent tree species in southern Ontario and occurred throughout the Carolinian or deciduous forest region. It was most common on sandy soils and on well drained slopes in Norfolk County and around Dundas, and millions of trees were present in these areas. American chestnut was a common and well-recognized tree at that time.


Distribution Map
Original distribution of American chestnut and spread of Chestnut blight (adapted from National Geographic 177-128-140)

However, after the 1940′s, this species was devastated by the introduction of a plant pathogen from Asia that caused the plant disease called Chestnut blight. Today, there are only several hundred sites left in southern Ontario where Chestnut trees and saplings still survive, from Windsor through London to Oakville and south to Lake Erie.

"The American Chestnut is listed as an endangered species under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007. This Act protects the tree from being collected, killed or harmed. The Natural Heritage component of the Provincial Policy Statement under Ontario’s Planning Act provides for the protection of significant habitat of threatened species."

See: type=fact&id=27

Chestnut Blight
Surviving stump of American chestnut that was killed by Chestnut blight