My recent post about the Russian leather rescued from a two hundred year old shipwreck reminded me of a story I heard many years back about a couple of divers who raise American Chestnut tree trunks from the bottom of the Mississippi River. Maybe, because I grew up in extreme south Texas (practically Mexico), far removed from the natural habitat for this tree, I was completely unaware of the near extinction of the American Chestnut. This native tree made up about 20 percent of our eastern forests. Chestnuts were so plentiful that they were used by farmers to fatten their cattle. In 1904 the disease was first noticed affecting trees at the Bronx Zoo. It's believed that the disease hitched a ride to the United States on an imported asian Chestnut tree. By 1950 the American Chestnut population was practically extinct. I've read that strands of chestnut trees in Canada, and a couple of western states were spared. I wasn't able to find the story about the divers. I did find several businesses that scour the eastern countryside looking for old barns and other buildings built from this wood. The wood is reclaimed and sold. I'm sure some of you guys reading this are from the east and have seen the old stumps and heard family members talk about these trees and the blight that killed them. Not having traveled out east, I've never seen American Chestnut wood or anything made from it. Several organizations are trying to cross polinate the blight resistant Chinese Chestnut trees with our native trees but it doesn't sound very promising.
Dead chestnut trees along the Blueridge Parkway
The photo below is from a website belonging to the Volunteer State Community College. It's got some good photos of several living trees discovered in Tennessee.
Since I'm on the subject of bringing things back from the brink of extinction, I remembered hearing a story on NPR about the Apple Detective, Carlos Manning. He travels around the country trying to find varieties of heirloom apples thought to be extinct. Extinct may not be the best word to use in this case, lost or forgotten may be more fitting. When I searched NPR, I found a synopsis of the story but there was no recording available. I guess the story was too old, it originally aired in 1998. I've never had an heirloom apple. From what I've read they're usually shaped funny, are strangely colored, and smaller than modern apples. They're also supposed to have remarkably different tastes from variety to variety. Anyway, here's a link to an old L.A. Times story on Mr. Manning. There's also this interesting story by a lady whose family owns an orchard that has a variety of apples that were thought to be extinct.