Chestnut blight

Chestnut blight fungus
Cankers caused by the fungal infection cause the bark to split.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Ascomycota
Subphylum: Pezizomycotina
Class: Sordariomycetes
Order: Diaporthales
Family: Cryphonectriaceae
Genus: Cryphonectria
Species: parasitica
Binomial name
Cryphonectria parasitica
(Murrill) Barr

The pathogenic fungus Cryphonectria parasitica (formerly Endothia parasitica) is a member of the ascomycota (sac fungus) category, and is the main cause of chestnut blight, a devastating disease of the American chestnut tree that caused a mass extinction in the early 1900s of this once plentiful tree from its historic range in the eastern United States.



The chestnut blight was accidentally introduced to North America around 1900, either through imported chestnut lumber or through imported chestnut trees. In 1905, American mycologist William Murrill studied the disease, isolated and described the fungus responsible (which he named Diaporthe parasitica), and demonstrated by inoculation into healthy plants that the fungus caused the disease.[1] By 1940, mature American chestnut trees were virtually wiped out by the disease.

Infection of Asian chestnut trees with the chestnut blight fungus was discovered on Long Island in 1904. The blight appears to have been introduced from either China or Japan.[citation needed] Japanese and some Chinese chestnut trees show some resistance to infection by C. parasitica: they may be infected, but the fungus does not usually kill them. Within 40 years the near-4 billion-strong American chestnut population in Northern America was devastated[2] – only a few clumps of trees remained in California and the Pacific northwest. Because of the disease, American Chestnut wood almost disappeared from the market for decades, although American chestnut wood can still be obtained as reclaimed lumber.[3] The root collar and root system of the chestnut tree are fairly resistant to the fungal infection, so a large number of small American chestnut trees still exist as shoots from existing root bases. However, the shoots are seldom able to grow enough to reproduce before the blight attacks them.[4] So they only survive as living stumps, or "stools", with only a few growing enough shoots to produce seeds shortly before dying. This is just enough to preserve the genetic material used to engineer an American chestnut tree with the minimal necessary genetic input from any of the disease-immune Asiatic species. Efforts started in the 1930s and are still ongoing to repopulate the country with these trees, in Massachusetts[5] and many other places in the United States.[2]

In some places such as the Appalachian Mountains, it is estimated that one in every four hardwoods was an American chestnut. Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 feet (sometimes up to one hundred feet), and could grow up to 200 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 14 feet at a few feet above ground level. For three centuries most barns and homes east of the Mississippi were made from American chestnut.[6] The chestnut blight caused by C. parasitica has destroyed about 4 billion American chestnut trees,[2] and dramatically reduced the tree population throughout the East Coast. The American Chinquapin (Chinkapin) chestnut trees are also very susceptible to chestnut blight. The European chestnut and the West Asian species are susceptible but less so than the American species. The resistant species (particularly Japanese chestnut and Chinese chestnut but also Seguin's chestnut and Henry's chestnut) have been used in breeding programs in the US to create hybrids with the American chestnut that are disease-resistant.[7]

The fungus is spread by wind-borne ascospores and, over a shorter distance, conidia distributed by rain-splash action.[citation needed] Infection is local in range, so some isolated American chestnuts survive where there is no other tree within 10 km. Also, there are at least two viral pathogens that weaken the fungus (hypovirulence) and help trees to survive.

Surviving chestnut trees are being bred for resistance to the blight, notably by The American Chestnut Foundation, which aims to reintroduce a blight-resistant American chestnut to its original forest range within the early decades of the 21st century.

A small stand of surviving American chestnuts was found in F. D. Roosevelt State Park near Warm Springs, Georgia on April 22, 2006 by Nathan Klaus of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.[8][9]


The fungus makes its entry at wounds and grows in and beneath the bark which eventually kills the cambium all the way round the twig, branch or trunk.[10] The first symptom is a small orange-brown area on the bark of a twig or branch. A sunken canker may form and the bark may split. Yellowish-orange stromata containing conidiomata break through the bark of the canker and perithecia may be formed on the same stroma. Distinctive yellow tendrils (cirrhi) of conidia can be seen extruding from the stroma in wet weather. The canker expands around the circumference of the twig or branch resulting in wilting and death of the plant material above the canker which is deprived of nourishment.[11]

Hybrid chestnut trees

In the years since the chestnut blight, many scientists and botanists have worked to create a resistant hybrid chestnut tree that retains the main characteristics of the American chestnut tree. In the early 1950s, a large living American chestnut was discovered in a grove of dead and dying trees in Ohio that showed no evidence of blight infection.[citation needed] Budwood was sent to Dr. Robert T. Dunstan, a plant breeder in Greensboro, North Carolina. Dunstan grafted the scions onto chestnut rootstock and the trees grew well. He cross-pollinated one with a mixture of 3 Chinese chestnut selections: "Kuling", "Meiling", and "Nanking". The resulting fruit-producing hybrid was named the Dunstan Chestnut.[12]


  1. ^ Rogerson CT, Samuels GJ. (1996). Mycology at the New York Botanical Garden, 1985-1995. Brittonia 48(3):389-98
  2. ^ a b c The American Chestnut Foundation - Mission & History.
  3. ^ Trees, Woods and Man. By H.L. Edlin. New Naturalist. 1970. ISBN 00-213230-3.
  4. ^ [1] History of the American Chestnut
  5. ^ The American Chestnut Returns. By Fred Thys, for WBUR news. July 18, 2008.
  6. ^ American Chestnut Restoration. Salem Board & Beam.
  7. ^ New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. By A. Huxley ed. 1992. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
  8. ^ Rare American Chestnut Trees Discovered (Washington Post 2006-05-19)
  9. ^
  10. ^ Anagnostakis SL (2000) Revitalization of the Majestic Chestnut: Chestnut Blight Disease.
  11. ^ Crop Protection Compendium 2005 Edition. Cryphonectria parasitica (blight of chestnut). CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
  12. ^

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • chestnut blight — ☆ chestnut blight n. a disease of chestnut trees, caused by a fungus (Endothia parasitica), that has virtually destroyed the American chestnut …   English World dictionary

  • chestnut blight — Plant Pathol. a disease of chestnuts, esp. the American chestnut, characterized by bark lesions that girdle and eventually kill the tree, caused by a fungus, Endothia parasitica. [1905 10, Amer.] * * * Plant disease caused by the fungus Endothia… …   Universalium

  • chestnut blight — noun a disease of American chestnut trees • Syn: ↑chestnut canker, ↑chestnut bark disease • Hypernyms: ↑blight * * * noun or chestnut bark disease or …   Useful english dictionary

  • chestnut blight — chest′nut blight n. ppa a disease of chestnut trees caused by a fungus, Endothia parasitica, characterized by bark lesions that eventually girdle the trunk and kill the tree • Etymology: 1905–10, amer …   From formal English to slang

  • chestnut blight — noun Date: circa 1909 a destructive disease of the American chestnut marked by cankers of the bark and cambium and caused by an imported fungus (Endothia parasitica syn. Cryphonectria parasitica) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Chestnut (disambiguation) — Chestnut is a genus of deciduous tree and shrub species Castanea. The name also refers to the edible nut these trees produce. Chestnut (also chesnut) may also refer to: In architecture: Chestnut Lodge, historic building in Rockville, Maryland… …   Wikipedia

  • Chestnut — For other uses of chestnut , see Chestnut (disambiguation). For other uses of chinquapin or chinkapin , see Chinquapin (disambiguation). Chestnut Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa Scientific clas …   Wikipedia

  • chestnut — chestnutty, adj. /ches nut , neuht/, n. 1. any of the several deciduous trees constituting the genus Castanea, of the beech family, having toothed, oblong leaves and bearing edible nuts enclosed in a prickly bur, and including C. dentata… …   Universalium

  • blight — blightingly, adv. /bluyt/, n. 1. Plant Pathol. a. the rapid and extensive discoloration, wilting, and death of plant tissues. b. a disease so characterized. 2. any cause of impairment, destruction, ruin, or frustration: Extravagance was the… …   Universalium

  • chestnut canker — noun a disease of American chestnut trees • Syn: ↑chestnut blight, ↑chestnut bark disease • Hypernyms: ↑blight * * * noun see chestnut blight …   Useful english dictionary

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