Sandra L. Anagnostakis
of chestnut, both for timber and for nut production, has prompted
importation and experimentation in the U.S. for many years.
In 1773, Thomas Jefferson grafted European chestnut scions
(Castanea sativa Mill.) onto American chestnuts (C. dentata
(Marsh.) Borkh.) at his home, Monticello, near Charlottesville,
Virginia (1). E. I. Du Pont de Nemours moved from France to
Bergen Point, New Jersey (in 1799) and then to Brandywine,
Delaware (in 1802) where he planted European chestnuts himself,
and gave them to friends and acquaintances (10).
Harold Powell's 1900 report from the Delaware Agricultural
Experiment Station discusses the early history of Japanese
chestnut trees (C. crenata Sieb. and Zucc.) in the United
States. They were first imported by S. B. Parsons of Flushing,
New York who obtained seed from plant collector Thomas Hogg
in 1876. These `Parsons' Japan' were sold as original seedlings
and their offspring, and two planted in Connecticut in 1876
still survive. William Parry of New Jersey imported 1000
grafted trees from Japan in 1882, and selected many of the
early named varieties. Luther Burbank imported 10,000 nuts
from Japan in 1886, and sold selected seedlings by mail-order,
and to other nurseries.
first records of crosses between chestnut species typify
the whole history of chestnut breeding in the U.S.: the
work was done by both an interested amateur and by a professional
botanist. George W. Endicott of Villa Ridge, Illinois was
growing `Japan Giant' at the end of the last century, and
used pollen from an American chestnut tree to produce Japanese
X American hybrids in 1895. One of these hybrids produced
six burs in its second year, and was named `Daniel Boone'.
This variety was strongly self-fertile, which is rare in
chestnut (11). The other early hybridization work was done
by Dr. Walter Van Fleet, then an associate editor of the
Rural New Yorker Magazine. In 1894 he used pollen of American
chestnut on flowers of the European (or European-American)
cultivar `Paragon' and planted the progeny in Little Silver,
New Jersey (12). Van Fleet went on to make thousands of
crosses, using many species, between 1900 and 1921. His
early crosses used the native chinquapin, C. pumila and
European and Japanese cultivars. In his later work he included
the Chinese chestnut, C. mollissima Bl. Wild seed of "Castanea
species" collected in Tientsin, China were imported by the
US Department of Agriculture (as PI#34517) and planted in
1912 at their Bell (Maryland) Experimental Plot. Van Fleet
had over 900 of these trees to observe and use there, in
addition to subsequent importations made by the USDA plant
explorer Frank N. Meyer. Van Fleet's S-8 (its row and tree
location in the nursery) was crossed by Arthur Graves in
Connecticut with a forest-type Japanese to produce the cultivar
‘Essate Jap’. Van Fleet did not have records on the parents
of S-8, but H. Nienstaedt concluded in his 1948 thesis that
it was C. crenata X C. pumila, based on the results of other
crosses of these two species (9).
USDA Yearbook of Agriculture for 1937 carries an article
by H. L. Crane, C. A. Reed, and M. N. Wood, in which they
discuss nut breeding in the U.S. Their work at Beltsville,
Maryland and the work of R. B. Clapper and G. F. Gravatt
at Glenn Dale, Maryland, and A. S. Colby at the Experiment
station in Urbana, Illinois involved making and testing
hybrids for their resistance to chestnut blight and their
fitness throughout the US. The USDA work was continued by
J. D. Diller and F. H. Berry until the project was terminated
contribution of many interested nut growers has been very
important, both in spurring on the scientists and in educating
the public. In Connecticut, physicians R. T. Morris and
W. C. Deming planted many kinds of chestnuts and experimented
with crosses and culture. Fred Ashworth in New York and
Alfred Szego on Long Island, and many other faithful members
of the Northern Nut Growers have contributed immeasurably.
longest-continuing chestnut breeding program in the United
States is that in Connecticut. Nut growers such as Morris
and Deming encouraged The Experiment Station to study chestnut
management before, and resistance after chestnut blight
engulfed the state. Dr. Arthur H. Graves planted trees on
land that he owned in Hamden, Connecticut, and started making
crosses in 1930. Two of his students, Hans Nienstaedt and
Richard A. Jaynes, maintained trees, made crosses, and contributed
greatly to our knowledge of chestnut in general. In 1950
Graves deeded his land with the Sleeping Giant Chestnut
Plantation to the state, to ensure that the work would continue.
Since then the Plantation has been maintained by The Connecticut
Agricultural Experiment Station, and is probably the finest
collection of species and hybrids in the world.
early Connecticut breeding work focused on making hybrids
that were combinations of species, looking for single ideal
progeny that could be propagated clonally. R. A. Jaynes
joined the Experiment Station staff in 1962, and with A.
H. Graves (who died in December of that year) published
a bulletin on Connecticut hybrid chestnuts and their culture.
Jaynes cooperated with the Virginia Division of Forestry
to plant over 10,000 hybrid chestnut seedlings in the Lesesne
State Forest in Virginia. These are still being observed
by T. Dieroff, so that promising trees can be selected.
Jaynes retirement in 1983, responsibility for the chestnut
breeding program fell to me. At the urging of Charles R.
Burnham, a prominent geneticist, records were searched for
hybrids that were products of resistant X susceptible trees,
and any that were backcrossed again to the susceptible parent
species. Burnham felt that a few generations of backcrossing
and selecting, followed by crosses of those products (Fig.
1), would allow selection of trees that had the form and
nut quality needed, combined with resistance to chestnut
blight (2). These trees would produce "true to type" offspring,
and allow reforestation with chestnut.
of the long-term commitment of The Connecticut Agricultural
Experiment Station in maintaining records and valuable trees,
this project is proceeding smoothly. Many Asian trees in
Connecticut have been evaluated for survival in our climate
(some for 120 years, so far), resistance to chestnut blight,
timber form, and nut quality. Selected trees have been used
to make new hybrids with American chestnut trees kept alive
using biological control by hypovirulence (a virus disease
of the chestnut blight fungus). Experiment Station trees
are also being used by Dr. F. V. Hebard, chestnut breeder
for the American Chestnut Foundation. Two first-generation-backcross
trees [(Chinese X American) X American] are now 50 and 43
years old. The hybrid made by Diller in 1946 was called
`Clapper'(6), and although the original tree has died, two
grafts survive at the Connecticut Experiment Station farm.
Our other old BC1 tree was made by Graves and Nienstaedt
in 1953, and we call it `Graves'. Both have timber form,
good blight resistance, and acceptable nuts.
are being made now for orchard as well as timber trees.
Some of the complex hybrids made by Jaynes have the Chinese
shrub C. seguinii in their background, and are compact dwarfs.
I have used these as dwarfing rootstocks (to get early flowers
on short trees), and am using them in crosses with chestnut
trees with exceptional nut quality to select short, reliable
work at The Connecticut Experiment Station will continue,
and the renewed interest in chestnuts should allow cooperation
with many people -- amateurs and scientists -- to speed
our progress towards usable chestnut timber stands and a
new nut market in the United States.
- Bailey, L. H. 1900. Chestnut. p 294-297 IN: Cyclopedia
of American Horticulture, vol.C, MacMillan Co., New York.
- Burnham, C. R. 1988. The restoration of the American chestnut.
American Scientist 76:478-487.
- Crane, H. L., C. A. Reed, and M. N. Wood. 1938. Nut Breeding.
pp 827-835 IN: Yearbook of Agriculture for 1937. USDA,
- Corsa, W. P. 1896. The Chestnuts. p 77-91 IN: Nut Culture
in the United States. USDA Division of Pomology, Washington,
- Fuller, A. S. 1896. The Chestnut. p 60-117 IN: The Nut
Culturist. Orange Judd Co., New York.
- Diller, J. D. and R. B. Clapper. 1969. Asiatic and hybrid
chestnut trees in the eastern United States. J. Forestry
- Jaynes, Richard A. 1979. Chestnuts. pp 111-127 IN: Nut
Tree Culture in North America. R. A. Jaynes, ed., Northern
Nut Growers Association, Inc., 466 p.
- Jaynes, R. A. and A. H. Graves. 1963. Connecticut Hybrid
Chestnuts and Their Culture. Bulletin 657, The Connecticut
Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, CT, 29 p.
- Nienstaedt, H. 1948. Notes on the Chestnut: Breeding,
Culture, and Botanical Characters of Species and Hybrids.
Master's Thesis, Yale School of Forestry, 104 p + XIII.
- Powell, G. Harold. 1899. The European and Japanese Chestnuts
in the Eastern United States. Bulletin XLII, Delaware
Agricultural Experiment Station, Newark, Delaware,
- Taylor, W. A. and H. P. Gould. 1914. Promising new fruits.
pp 122-124 IN: Yearbook of Agriculture for 1913. USDA,
Washington, D. C.
- Van Fleet, Walter. 1920. Chestnut work at Bell Experiment
Plot. 11th annual report of the Northern Nut Growers Association,
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,