THE BEST FOOD PLOT TREE
THE MOST IMPORTANT TREE IN AMERICAN HISTORY
The American chestnut was the most important food and timber tree species in the Eastern hardwood forest. It was almost completely destroyed by a bark fungus accidentally introduced from the Orient in 1904. Within 40 years, over 30 million acres of chestnut trees were killed from Maine to Georgia and west to the Mississippi. This tragedy was the largest ecological disaster in American history.
The chestnut was an amazingly useful tree: its plentiful nuts were eaten by people and wildlife, its beautiful, rot-resistant lumber was used for everything from furniture to fence posts, and its tannin used in the tanning industry. The loss of the chestnut, at the time of the Great Depression, had a devastating effect on the people and wildlife of the Appalachian mountains. The economic loss from the chestnut's demise amounted to untold millions of dollars.
THE ORIGINAL FOOD PLOT TREE
The American Chestnut was the primary food source tree for wildlife - deer, bear, turkey, squirrel, hogs - and produced literally a TON of mast or more per acre! Chestnuts were the favored food in the fall for game, because the sweet tasting nuts were high in protein, carbohydrate and had no bitter tasting tannins like acorns.
Deer are EVOLUTIONARILY PROGRAMMED TO EAT CHESTNUTS! Chestnuts are favored by deer over all other nuts because of their taste and nutrition. They are high in carbohydrates (40%), contain up to 10% high quality protein and no bitter-tasting tannin.
DEER CHOSE CHESTNUTS 100:1 OVER ACORNS!
In tests performed by Dr. James Kroll "Dr. Deer" at the Whitetail Research Institute in Nacogdoches, TX, Kroll reports: "Even though the wild deer at this location had never seen a chestnut in many generations, they got on the chestnuts within ONLY AN HOUR after we put them out. The deer ate the chestnuts 100:1 over the acorns! Chestnuts are deer's preferred food."
Dr. James Kroll - Chestnuts are Deer's Preferred Food
Huge Bucks eating Chestnuts at Whitetail Research Institute
One of the reasons deer prefer chestnuts is the sweet taste of the nuts. It actually sweetens the meat of the animals that eat it. In Spain, hogs are raised on chestnuts because of the excellent flavored meat it produces - Estremaduran pork is an international delicacy. Venison from chestnut fed deer tastes like corn-fed venison, without the gamey taste of deer that feed on bitter-tasting acorns.
We grow the Dunstan Chestnut, bred by noted plant breeder Dr. Robert Dunstan, because of its disease resistance and heavy annual crops of very large, sweet nuts. Dunstan Chestnuts have been grown for 30 years all over the US, in Zones 5-9 from Maine to Michigan and Illinois and south to Florida, without any trees ever dying from the blight (see Testimonials). In our field test s, deer readily choose chestnuts over acorns, and there are deer feeding in our orchard every night during harvest season.
R. D. Wallace from Chestnut Hill discusses Dunstan Chestnuts
Dunstan Chestnuts grow faster and bear sooner (in only 2-4 years) than oaks, have wide soil adaptability, have regular annual bearing (no skipped years like all oak species) and excellent production - 2,000+ lbs/acre or more. The tree pictured below was planted on our farm in 1984 and is over 50' tall with excellent timber form:
BETTER THAN OAK TREES
Dunstan Chestnuts are clearly superior as a tree for attracting deer and wildlife, and should be part of every deer management program.
|Dunstan Chestnut||White Oak||Sawtooth (Red) Oak |
|Hybrid with native||Yes||from China|
|Soil type||Wide adaptability||Rich upland||sand-clay loam|
|Growth Rate||10-12' Year 3||3-4' Year 3||4-6' Year 3|
|Years to bear||2-4||20-50||4-6|
|lbs/tree Year 10||10-25||0||10-30|
|Annual Bearing||Every year||Every 4-10 years||Every 2-3 years|
Data adapted from multiple sources, incl. Kirkpatrick and Pekins (2002) in Oak Forest Ecosystems: Ecology and Management for Wildlife, McShea and Healy, Eds, Johns Hopkins Press.
GRAFTED TREES VERSUS SEEDLINGS?
Most fruit trees such as apples, peaches, pears, persimmons and citrus are cloned by grafting or rooting cuttings taken from the parent tree that the nursery wants to propagate - and these techniques reproduce trees with identical (cloned) characteristics. However, this is not easy with chestnuts and many oak species, because they do not propagate easily by grafting or rooting. Chestnuts in particular are often affected with delayed graft incompatibility, in which the tree rejects the graft and the rootstock sends up suckers. It is a complex biological process, but in our 30 years of experience we have learned that grafted trees fail or are much weaker than seedling chestnuts, especially in colder climates. We believe that we would rather have a stronger tree producing slightly smaller nuts than a dead graft.
Chestnuts and oaks are affected by metaxenia, in which the size and ripening of the nut is influenced by the pollen (male) parent, not the nut size of the female parent (the tree bearing the nuts). The size of the nuts produced is determined by pollen from multiple other trees in the area, and thus there will be variability in the size of the nuts produced from growing out those seed into trees. Planting a large sized chestnut or acorn does not guarantee the tree grown from that nut will also bear large nuts like the parent tree. This is especially true when chestnuts are harvested from an orchard with a large number of varieties in which there are potentially many sources of pollen, or from nuts or acorns planted from trees found in the wild.
Our Dunstan Chestnut trees are grown from seed harvested from a grafted orchard of trees that all bear extremely large nuts, so each tree is receiving pollen from a large nutted cultivar. While there is still variation in the size of the seed produced, we have definitively proven over the last 30 years that our trees will consistently produce high quality large nutted cultivars. The commercial growers we sell to demand the largest sized nuts because they bring the highest price, and this is why they plant Dunstan Chestnuts. Their quality is proven!