I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about chestnuts. And if you think you do, you probably don't know as much as you thought! It turns out there's a whole thriving chestnut industry in both Europe and Asia, and we here in the U.S. are a little late to the game.
Though often plagued by fungus or "chestnut blight" it just so happens that Michigan's chestnut trees are some of the hardiest and legendary trees you'll find!
History of the American Chestnut
According to Penn State, in the early 1900s,
There were nearly 4 billion American chestnut trees in the United States...Today, there are fewer than 1,000 American chestnut trees, largely in isolated areas outside of the tree’s historical range
What was once a thriving species in the northeast region of the United States is now "functionally extinct" meaning although it can survive, it can't reproduce. Once beloved by loggers and lumber companies, how did we get here?
Referred to as, "the greatest ecological disaster to ever strike the world’s forests" chestnut blight is a fungus that originated in southeast Asia. Until 1904 the United States had a thriving chestnut crop, but when landscape architect S.B. Parsons introduced a new variety into his nursery, the Japanese chestnut, he unknowingly opened Pandora's Box. According to Planet Detroit,
Although he designed some of the nation’s most notable park landscapes, Parsons is infamously remembered for bringing the chestnut blight to the United States.
Michigan's Chestnut Crop
However, for some outstanding reason Michigan's chestnut crop is resistant to the blight. Dennis Fulbright, a professor at Michigan State and a plant pathologist, has said that miraculously Michigan is home to the only chestnut trees with a naturally occurring biological control. For some reason, chestnut trees just seem to thrive in Michigan. It's a modern medical marvel!
Today there are several farms where you can u-pick chestnuts and some will even let you roast them on site. In an interview with Under the Radar, of the presence of chestnuts in the U.S. and Michigan, owner of Winkel Chestnut Farms Dick Winkel says,
Most Americans like me, as youngsters, we've never even seen or heard of these. The American Chestnut disappeared before we came along...so by 1990 some folks educated me about chestnuts and I tasted one and my impression was 'I think they're pretty good, maybe someone else will too' and 30 years later I can tell you the answer is: yes.
Forget apple picking! Now that chestnuts are in season, pack up the kiddos and spend a day picking chestnuts at any one of the following farms:
- Winkel Chestnut Farms - Coopersville
- Vriezema Chestnut Farm- Jamestown
- Dekliene Orchards - Hudsonville