To save chestnut trees, we may have to ‘play God’
Four billion American chestnut trees were killed by a deadly fungus. In the quest for its revival, can scientists learn to build a better tree?
By the time Rex Mann was old enough to work in the forests of Appalachia, they were full of the dead.
“We called them gray ghosts,” the now 77-year-old retired forester says of the American chestnut tree scattered throughout his former North Carolina home and still towering over the forest floors.
They were skeletal remains of majestic trees that once grew to be as much as 100 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Over the course of the 20th century, an estimated four billion of them, one-fourth of the hardwood trees growing in Appalachia, were killed by an Asian fungus accidentally imported in the late 19th century. It’s considered one of the worst environmental disasters to strike North America—and also a preview.