The fight to bring back the American Chestnut tree

For many Americans, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is a pleasant abstraction at best, with little more connection to daily life than “wassailing” or “figgy pudding” (cue 100 angry emails from figgy pudding enthusiasts). In fact, the American chestnut tree itself is a bit of a relic: At peak there were up to 5 billion of the trees here, down to an estimated 435 million today, at most. Additionally, 84 percent of the trees that remain are undersized and unable to bear fruit. Modern Farmer catches up with the American Chestnut Foundation, a nonprofit that is pursuing multiple paths toward creating a sturdier, disease-resistant American chestnut tree, with an eye toward restoring its earlier glory. The article notes how wood from the tree used to be quite prevalent in American building and craftwork, while chestnuts themselves were a common livestock feed. But if you’re hoping for an imminent, full-blown chestnut renaissance, take note: The researchers working on breeding projects right now don’t think they’ll see the “fruits of their labors” within our lifetime. Want a perspective on GMO chestnut trees and Indigenous resistance to the prospect? Counter staff writer Jessica Fu has you covered. —Jesse Hirsch