Collected on August 8, 1901, this American chestnut (Castanea dentata) specimen was found near Blairsville, Pennsylvania by John Shafer.
The American chestnut was once a major player in eastern United States forests, especially Pennsylvania and the Appalachian Mountains. American chestnut provided many ecological functions, including an important food source for wildlife, and was prized by humans for its wood. Some estimated that one in four trees in some forests were American chestnut. Due to chestnut blight, a disease caused by a pathogenic fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) introduced in the early 1900s from Japan, this is no longer true. The species went from an important component of many forests to being functionally extinct.
The species can still be found in some places as resprouted shoots from existing stumps, but they do not reach reproductive maturity. Breeding efforts are underway to restore the American chestnut through creating blight-resistant chestnuts by crossbreeding with Chinese chestnuts, which are resistant to blight.
There are 264 American chestnut specimens in Carnegie Museum’s herbarium, which document the distribution and biology of this important species before and after the blight. This specimen picture here was collected before chestnut blight was known in the United States.
Botanists at Carnegie Museum of Natural History share pieces of the herbarium’s historical hidden collection on the dates they were discovered or collected. Check back for more!