The facility has 15 chestnut trees, 5 each of the American, Chinese and American-Chinese Hybrid species, planted in one row.

Background Information

The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was once a vital piece of forest ecosystems, providing food to billions of animals. It dominated the eastern United States, with a population of roughly 4 billion trees. 1 out of every 4 trees in the eastern United States was an American chestnut, prior to the 20th century. The trees were renowned for their sweet and abundant crop of nut, as well as for the quality of their wood. Mature trees could produce as many as 6000 nuts and could be as tall as 100 feet with strong, straight grained, rot resistant wood.

With the introduction of Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) and the subsequent rapid decimation of the native chestnut population, the American chestnut has become designated as functionally extinct. A few stands of trees still remain throughout the Appalachian regions and stumps of infected trees continue to send up new shoots, but newly sprouted trees rarely survive.

Current restoration efforts are focused on creating hybrids with the blight resistance of Chinese chestnuts and the desirable characteristics of the American chestnut.

Chestnuts at LERGREC

The Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center has 15 chestnut trees, 5 each of the American, Chinese and American-Chinese Hybrid species, planted in one row. The original trees were established in May of 2013, with two hybrids relocated in 2014 and one American replaced in 2016. The tree seeds were acquired from the Pennsylvania chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation located at the main campus of The Pennsylvania State University.

The American-Chinese Hybrid species were bred by The American Chestnut Foundation. The goal was and is to create a chestnut tree that is as genetically close to the American species as possible, while also inheriting the resistance to chestnut blight from the Chinese species. This is achieved through what is known as backcross breeding, in which Americans are bred with Chinese, and the most blight resistant offspring with American characteristics are then bred back with American. This has occurred over many years, beginning in the 1980s, and several generations. The hybrids planted at LERGREC are of the B3F3 generation, which are roughly 94% genetically American.

Chestnut Blight

Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) is a pathogenic fungus native to Asian chestnuts. It was first recorded in the New York Zoological Garden in 1904. Within 50 years of the first discovery, blight had killed virtually all American chestnuts. Stumps still remain to send up shoots from the root system, but the shoots rarely survive long enough to produce nuts.

The fungus is spread aerially by spores that infect the trees where they are able to germinate and penetrate bark. This is often in locations of injury such as can be created by bird or insect activity. Once infected, the tree will develop a reddish-brown or yellow-orange rash on the affected bark. When the fungus begins to reproduce, orange tendrils can often be seen oozing from the lenticels (pores) of the bark. As the fungus grows, sunken or swollen cankers form that disrupt the tree's internal flow of water and nutrients, eventually leading to the death of the tree.

Identifying Chestnuts

According to the American Chestnut Foundation, there are several ways in which to identify whether a tree is an American chestnut or a Chinese chestnut, although this does begin to prove more difficult with later generation hybrids, as they more closely resemble true Americans.


American chestnut leaves are elongated with prominent teeth

Chinese chestnut leaves are oval shaped with small teeth


American chestnuts are small, between 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter, with point tips and hair over 1/3 to 2/3 of their length

Chinese chestnuts are large, between 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter, with rounded tips and hair only appearing on the tips


American chestnuts are chestnut brown when young and later develop shallow flat ridges

Chinese chestnuts are brown to gray-brown when young and quickly develop furrows with distinguishable patterns


American chestnuts grow straight and upright

Chinese chestnuts tend to spread more in the crown and develop multiple trunks