Life in the Chestnut Forest

American chestnut (Castenea dentata) once crowned Appalachia with hairy nuts and canoe-shaped leaves; sometimes in pure stands on top of mountain ridges. Because of its immense size and resistance to rot, the chestnut was called the ‘Redwood of the East.’

Its nuts provided food for man and animals, its husks shampoo, its bark tea, its sap beer, its leaves medicine, its wood fuel, lumber and tannin, and its forests shelter for wildlife and brook trout.

In less than half a century, a fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) wiped out 4 billion chestnut trees; forever changing the landscape. What if we could step back in time when chestnuts ruled Appalachia, and mountain folk worked the land? What was it like to experience the anguish of being robbed of a way of life?

What can be learned from this tragedy? Will we ever walk among the titans again (the Shelton’s cling to a scrap left by the loggers; 1920, courtesy GSMNP)? Only time will tell.

Watch slideshow below. Many of these photos are over a century old.

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