An Historical Reference for Chestnut Introductions Into North America
Sandra L. Anagnostakis
find chestnut trees of any size growing in the New England
woods they frequently call The Experiment Station, sure that
they have found an American chestnut tree resistant to chestnut
blight. It usually turns out that this tree is Asian or an
Asian hybrid. In previous centuries, chestnut trees were very
important to the people on this continent. They took advantage
of "new and different" material much more than is generally
realized, and were planting Asian species long before chestnut
blight was discovered in New York City in 1904 (see
). The species of chestnut are listed in Table
. Since I am often faced with the problem of telling
an enthusiast that some nice tree is not Castanea dentata,
I have started compiling some information about the history
of chestnut importations into North America.
first recorded importations were those of Thomas Jefferson,
who brought cuttings to his home, Monticello, and grafted
them on native American chestnut trees. Eleuthere Irenee
DuPont de Nemours, who in 1799 moved from France to Bergen
Point, New Jersey, and then to Brandywine, Delaware, brought
many European chestnuts (Castanea sativa) with him, imported
more later, hybridized lots, and planted them all over the
area. By 1889 some of the popular varieties of C. sativa
and sativa X dentata hybrids were: `Anderson' `Bartram'
`Comfort' `Cooper' `Corson' `Dager' `Darlington' `duPont'
`Miller' `Moncur' `Numbo' `Paragon' `Ridgely' `Scott' `Spanish'
1876, S. B. Parsons of Flushing, New York, imported a few
trees of Castanea crenata and sold them as `Parson's Japan'.
Two of these are still growing very well in Connecticut;
one in Old Lyme on the grounds of the Bee and Thistle Inn,
and one in Cheshire behind the Congregational Church. Major
importation of Asian chestnut trees began in 1882 when William
Parry, of Parry, New Jersey, imported 1,000 grafted C. crenata
trees. Parry selected `Parry' as his best, but sold several
other varieties as well.
1886 Luther Burbank imported 10,000 nuts from Japan for
selecting and hybridizing. In 1893 his "New Creations" catalog
advertised his 'New Japan Mammoth' chestnut and he sold
three seedlings to Judge Andrew J. Coe of Connecticut. These
were sold in 1897 to J. H. Hale of South Glastonbury, Connecticut,
who named them `Coe', `Hale', and `McFarland' and sold them
from his nursery and through catalogs starting in 1898.
were 21 varieties of Japanese chestnuts listed in T. H.
Powell's 1898 Bulletin (#42, Delaware Agricultural Experiment
Station). These were discussed in gardening magazines such
as The Rural New Yorker, and advertised in plant and seed
catalogs. Mail order spread these Asian trees all over the
country. By the turn of the century Asian and European chestnut
trees were available by mail from many nurseries such as
Burbank (California), Parry Bros. (New Jersey), Hale (Connecticut),
Kerr (Maryland), Biltmore (North Carolina), Boehmer (Japan),
and the Yokohama Co. of New York and Tokyo (Table
were being grown as a crop in many places, and some of the
eastern U.S. companies in business by 1900 were:
The Albion Chestnut Company, Clementon, NJ
150 acres of stump land grafted with sativa (`Numbo')
J. W. Beecher, Pottsville, PA
80 acres with 18,800 grafted trees
Arthur J. Collins, Moorestown, NJ
30 acres, mostly with grafted `Alpha' crenata, and `Paragon'
Henry W. Comfort, Fallsington, PA
56 trees on one acre, mostly `Numbo'
J. T. Lovett, Emilie, PA (near Trenton, NJ)
about 22 acres with 1,200 grafted `Paragon' and 25,000
The Mammoth Chestnut Company, Clementon, NJ
about 150 acres, mostly grafted `Numbo'
Samuel C. Moon, Morrisville, PA
originator of `Numbo' = Magnum Bonum sativa
Parry Brothers Nursery, Cinnaminson, NJ
many crenata seedlings and selections
Coleman K. Sober, Lewisburg, PA
300 acres, sprouts grafted with `Paragon'
Joseph Williams, Riverton, NJ
7,500 dentata seedlings planted, many grafted with crenata
and sativa scions
Chinese Chestnut Trees
chestnuts are not mentioned in the early catalogs that I
have seen, but plant explorers were sending seed to the
U.S. In 1903, Dr. Charles Sprague Sargent sent C. mollissima
seed to The Arnold Arboretum near Boston, Massachusetts,
for their collection. No trees from this seed lot have survived.
In 1908, E. H. Wilson sent them seeds of his collection
#551, Castanea henryi from Western Hupeh, China. This was
planted in their collection as tree #6849, which survived
better than most imports of this species, but finally died
in 1934. Cuttings were sent to the U.S. Plant Introduction
Department in the Bureau of Plant Industry.
the turn of the century several plant explorers were traveling
around the world collecting things not found in North America.
These people were often careful observers of plant ecology
and their notes make fascinating reading. When the Boxer
Rebellion opened up China to exploration, several expeditions
were made. The most famous explorers are probably Ernest
H. "Chinese" Wilson who collected for an English Nursery
and later for The Arnold Arboretum, and Frank N. Meyer who
was hired by David Fairchild to explore for the U.S. Plant
Introduction Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The two had very different personal styles, and their travels
resulted in vast numbers of importations. I have found only
two certain survivors of Frank Meyer's chestnut imports.
The Rochester (New York) Parks Department has a specimen
of PI 36666 growing in their Durand-Eastman Park as #G 25,
and there is one at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford,
Connecticut, that was named as the cultivar 'Bartlett.'
Blight, or Chestnut Bark Disease is caused by the fungus
Cryphonectria parasitica, formerly called Endothia parasitica.
Cankers were found on American chestnut trees lining the
avenues of the Bronx Zoo in New York City in 1904. In 1907
and 1908 the fungus attacked other species of chestnut in
the New York Botanical Garden. Rapid spread of the disease
followed, and within 50 years the fungus was found throughout
the native range of C. dentata; from Maine to Georgia, and
west to the edge of Michigan.
1913, David Fairchild asked Frank Meyer to look for the
disease in Asia, and Meyer reported that he had found it
in early June. He wrote:
blight does not by far do as much damage to the Chinese
chestnut trees as to the American ones. Not a single tree
could be found which had been killed entirely by this disease,
although there might have been such trees which had been
removed by the ever active and economic Chinese farmers.
and Stevens grew cultures from Meyer's samples, and in July
they inoculated the Chinese fungus into American trees near
Washington, D.C. Rapid death of the sprouts confirmed that
this similar-appearing fungus caused chestnut blight.
went to Japan in 1915 and was again first in finding chestnut
blight. He wrote that the Japanese chestnut trees were generally
more resistant to the blight disease than the Chinese chestnut
trees that he had seen, and suggested:
Japanese chestnut, Castanea japonica might be used as a
factor in hybridization experiments together with American,
European, and Chinese species to create immune or nearly
immune strains of chestnuts.
people took up Meyer's suggestion, and hybrids made earlier
to improve the orchard qualities of chestnut trees were
examined for their resistance to chestnut blight.
Arthur H. Graves, of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, started
planting chestnut trees and making hybrids in the early
1930's. Trees were planted on his property in Hamden, Connecticut,
and on land owned by The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment
Station. His work was aided by Hans Nienstaedt and Richard
Jaynes, who both did their doctoral research on chestnut
at Yale University and The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment
Station. Now that we can keep American chestnut trees alive
with biological control by hypovirulence, breeding can continue.
and hybrids of chestnut were distributed by The Experiment
Station to home owners all over the northeastern U.S. Often
records of origin are lost, tags are unreadable, or row
lines are confused by the planting efforts of squirrels.
I try to identify the trees found by citizens, using leaf
and twig characteristics. The pure species are easy, but
the complicated hybrids must sometimes be a case of "best
file on chestnut history gets larger every year, as I find
yet another catalog or letter from the early days of this
century. Many fine Asian trees have withstood 50 to 120
years of New England winters, bugs, and blight. We can use
these in present and future breeding programs, as long as
we remember to write it down for the people trying to puzzle
this out 100 years from now.
W. A. 1896. Chestnut culture for fruit. Bulletin #36,
The Pennsylvania State College Agricultural Experiment
Station, State College, PA.
E. H. 1912. Second-growth hardwoods in Connecticut.
U.S. Dept. Agric., Forest Service Bulletin #96, Washington,
A. S. 1896. The Nut Culturist: A treatise on the Propagation,
Planting and Cultivation of Nut-bearing Trees and Shrubs
Adapted to the Climate of the United States. Orange
Judd Co., New York.
F. N. 1911. Agricultural explorations in the fruit and
nut orchards of China. U.S. Dept. Agric., Bureau of
Plant Industry Bulletin #204, Washington, D.C.
G. H. 1898. The European and Japanese chestnuts in the
Eastern United States. Delaware College Agricultural
Experiment Station Bulletin #42, Newark, DE.
R. 1904. Chestnut in Southern Maryland. U.S. Dept. Agric.,
Bureau of Forestry Bulletin #53, Washington, D.C.
P. J. and Rankin, W. H. 1914. Endothia canker of chestnut.
Cornell Univ. Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin
#347, Ithaca, NY.
D. 1913. The discovery of the chestnut bark disease
in China. Science 38:279-299.
H. W. 1905. A deadly fungus on the American chestnut.
NY Zool. Soc., 10th Ann. Rep., NY.
W.A. 1908. The spread of the chestnut disease. J. NY
Botanical Garden 9:23- 30.
C. L. and Stevens, N. E. 1913. The chestnut-blight parasite
(Endothia parasitica) from China. Science 38:295-297.
C. L. and Stevens, N. E. 1916. The discovery of the
chestnut-blight parasite (Endothia parasitica) and other
chestnut fungi in Japan. Science 43:173-176.
I. S. 1984. Frank N. Meyer: Plant Hunter in Asia. Iowa
State Univ. Press; Ames, IA.
D. 1938. The World Was My Garden. C. Scribner's Sons,
S. B. 1970. Charles S. Sargent and the Arnold Arboretum.
Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA.
S. B. 1974. In China's Border Provinces: The Turbulent
Career of Joseph Rock, Botanist-Explorer. Hastings Co.,
Table 1. Chestnut Trees By Mail-Order
||cost each, $
Jacob W. Manning, MA
||0.50 to $1.00
|J. T. Lovett Co.
Little Silver, NJ
0.10 - 0.25
|Storrs and Harrison
0.50 - 0.75
|Shady Hill Nursery
F. L. Temple, Cambridge (Somerville), MA
||0.10 - 0.35
H. P. Kelsey, Boston, MA
||0.15 - 0.50
|Mt. Hope Nursery
Ellwanger and Barry,
|Elm City Nursery
New Haven, CT
|0.50 - 1.00
0.25 - 1.00
0.50 - 1.00
P. J. Berckmans, Augusta, GA
|0.25 - 1.00
J. H. Hale, South Glastonbury, CT
||Japanese hybrids (from Luther Burbank)
'Coe', 'Hale', 'McFarland'
|C. B. Hornor and Son
Mt. Holly, NJ
|0.25 - 0.35
1.00 - 2.50
Table 2. Chestnut Species
|SECTION Castanea [three nuts per bur]
|Castanea dentata (Marshall)
|Castanea sativa Miller
|Castanea crenata Siebold and Zuccarini
|Castanea mollissima Blume
|Castanea seguinii Dode
||Chinese dwarf chestnut
|SECTION Balanocastanon [one nut per bur]
|Castanea pumila (Linnaeus) Miller
|Chinquapin, Bush Chestnut
|variety ozarkensis (Ashe) Tucker
|SECTION Hypocastanon [one nut per bur]
|Castanea henryi (Skan) Rehder & Wilson
||Chinese Timber Chinquapin,
or Henry Chinquapin
Return to "The Chestnut Story" Introduction
- An Historical Reference for Chestnut Introductions Into North America
- Chestnuts And The Introduction Of Chestnut Blight
- Oriental Chestnut Gall Wasp Found On American Chestnut Trees
- Valuable Chestnut Germplasm In Connecticut
- Chestnut Breeding In The United States
- Sources Of Chestnut Trees 1998
more information contact Sandra
L. Anagnostakis, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment
Station, Box 1106, New Haven, CT 06504, phone 203-974-8498,