The American Chestnut

Happy holidays! This week's review looks at the environmental history of the American chestnut, covering the tree's relationship with humans and animals, the chestnut blight, and restoration efforts.

The American Chestnut: An Environmental History

Davis, Donald Edward. Georgia, 2021
424p bibl index, 9780820360454 $32.95, 9780820360461

The American Chestnut: An Environmental History book cover. Black background with image of leaves in the top left corner.

Davis (independent scholar) begins by introducing the American chestnut, Castanea dentata providing background to inform discussion and pointing out common misconceptions conveyed in the media. Written in a journalistic style, the narrative is presented in four parts, beginning with evolution and migration of the species. Davis then provides a rich natural history, including the centuries-long relationships both animals and humans have enjoyed with the trees for obtaining food, shelter, and other ecological services related to economics and even cultural identities. Part 3 focuses on the aftermath of importing and grafting of overseas varieties and chestnut decline due to overharvesting near the turn of the 20th century and the subsequent chestnut blight, which caused the death of billions of trees. Part 4 focuses on restoration efforts encouraging blight resistance and controversies surrounding the methods scientists used to return the trees to North American forests. Overall, the book holistically covers the environmental history of the American chestnut, replacing the piecemeal coverage to date while setting the stage for important decisions in coming years that may, or may not, facilitate the return of this tree to the US landscape. Including some images and color plates, the book will appeal to all naturalists.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.
Reviewer: T. L. Bal, Michigan Technological University
Interdisciplinary Subjects: Environmental Studies, Food and Agriculture
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – Business, Management & Labor
Choice Issue: Oct 2022

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