Then the chestnut blight struck. First discovered in 1904 in New York City, the lethal fungus – an Asian organism to which our native chestnuts had very little resistance – spread quickly. By 1950, except for the shrub-like sprouts the species continually produces (and which also usually become infected), the American chestnut had virtually disappeared from eastern forests. In Georgia, trees that have survived the blight are few and far between. While those that have survived are truly a beautiful sight to behold, they are disappearing quickly.
Multiple efforts are underway to bring this precious tree back. Recent developments in genetics and plant pathology promise that this magnificent tree will again become part of our natural heritage. The American Chestnut Foundation (www.acf.org ) was created to coordinate a breeding program for the purpose of creating blight-resistant American chestnuts for eventual reforestation. TACF scientists are well on their way to developing a tree that is American in every way, with blight resistance borrowed from its Asian cousins. Georgia is one of several states that now have satellite breeding programs to ensure that blight-resistant trees will be suited to local environments.