deCordova American Chestnut

The story of American Chestnuts illustrates the cradle-to-grave concept quite literally. Their strong, straight wood was decay resistant, and therefore used to build furniture, fences, railroad ties, barrels, and even entire homes. Their tannin was extracted and used to dye silk and manufacture leather. Bees produced the sweetest honey from their blossoms. The trees’ rich and abundant nuts fed a variety of wildlife and people. While squirrels, bears, turkeys, and deer ate their nuts, rural economies depended on the nuts for feeding families, fattening pigs, and earning cash.

Then, after reigning for 40 million years, the American Chestnut almost disappeared within 40. A fungus, the chestnut blight, almost wiped the tree off the map, causing what many have called the greatest ecological disaster to strike the world’s forests in history.

The American Chestnut Foundation, which has been working on restoring the tree to its native forests, gave these two specimens to deCordova Museum in 2015 (a third one didn’t survive). The organization is developing blight-resistant trees through scientific research and breeding, with the goal of restoring the entire ecosystem lost at the turn of the century. The strategy is to plant them in forests, learn how the react in various scenarios, and add them to degraded lands where they were found before.

Once these two trees achieve greater height, they will be moved from the parking lot to a permanent location at deCordova Museum.