Genetic Variation in Natural Populations of American Chestnut
Prior to the blight epidemic, American chestnut (Castanea dentata Borkh.) was one of the most important timber and nut-producing tree species in eastern North America (U.S. Census Bureau 1908). Its native range extended from southern Maine and Ontario in the north to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi in the south (Sargent 1905). It now exists primarily as stump sprouts across its entire native range. After nearly a century of blight, numerous living stems of American chestnut still exist (Stephenson et al. 1991). Prolific stump sprouting and the fact that the blight fungus does not infect the root system have enabled American chestnut trees to persist. However, sexual reproduction is infrequent and its gene pool will likely face serious erosion when old root systems fail to produce sprouts and perish.