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Resurrection of the Chestnut Tree

May 24, 2012
By Larry Claypool - OV Times Editor , Ohio Valley Outdoor Times

What does the blight of the American chestnut tree in the early 1900s have to do with this region and the outdoors? A lot actually.

And why is it important to the outdoors that 30 million trees died in the United States from 1900-1940? It's only one of the most nutritional and favorite foods available for wildlife like deer, turkey, squirrel, bear and others.

So, what has been done since 1940 to correct this mass extinction of the American chestnut tree? Well, that's a tall order. The chestnut blight was accidently introduced in North American around 1900. Oddly enough the blight came from either China or Japan in the form of a fungus. And since tree growers in this country have crossed a Chinese chestnut tree - and a few others - with the American chestnut in an attempt to resurrect chestnut trees in the U.S.

That offers a local connection to bring back life to the chestnut.

I found this story very interesting and stumbled upon it after receiving an email in April from a PR firm about Realtree Nursery selling food plot trees at Walmart stores. I wondered why camouflage giant Realtree was now in the business of growing trees. Don't they have enough items with camo on it?

After exchanging emails with the PR firm they hooked me up with the owner of Realtree Nursery, Bob Wallace. And the history lesson began.

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While the American chestnut blight was killing off nearly four billion trees across the country scientists and botanists searched for ways to retain the popular tree.

I had to ask Wallace how Realtree got involved in selling trees. I received a very good answer. "It made perfect sense," said Wallace by phone from Florida.

"I was actually at a trade show (for tree farmers) and another vendor told me that I was selling to the wrong market. 'You need to be selling to hunters and the food plot industry'" he said. "So I started investigating it, and he was right. We've been going great since."

Wallace initially approached Mossy Oak (yes, they sell oak trees for food plots) and that didn't work out. So he went to their big rival Realtree. That made better sense. And he had a friend that knew Realtree innovator Bill Jordan. The relationship "grew" from there. Chestnut Hill Tree Farm (aka Realtree Nursery) in Alachua, Florida, is now one of the top chestnut tree producers in the country.

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And now the local connection.

While the American chestnut blight was killing off nearly four billion trees across the country scientists and botanists searched for ways to retain the popular tree. The chestnut tree was also used widely in the home building industry. In the early 1950s, an eastern Ohio nut grower named James Carpenter found a healthy American chestnut tree living among several dead trees and sent budwood from that tree to Wallace's grandfather, Robert T. Dunstan, of Greensboro, N.C., a well-known plant breeder. Dunstan was able to graft that tree bud with an Asian form that would - ironically - be resistant to the blight infection.

The Dunstan chestnut tree was born and has survived very well - thanks to the help of Carpenter and a healthy tree found in Salem, Ohio.

The Dunstan chestnut trees - along with a few other food plot trees - are available, while supplies last, at 200 Walmart stores across the country. Visit the Realtree Nursery website at: for store locations.



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