The only known survivor of the blight is a stately American chestnut tree in nearby Adair County. The tree, with a diameter of nearly 3 feet, is the largest living American chestnut tree in the United States.
Wildlife depended on the American chestnut’s abundant crop of nuts. Its timber was used for virtually everything including utility poles, fences, railroad ties, shingles, fine furniture and musical instruments.
A lethal fungus, accidentally imported from Asia in 1904, spread rapidly over the chestnut’s range. By 1950, all that remained in the fungi’s wake were huge, ghostlike trunks extending above the forest canopy.
The fungi killed the trees, but not the roots. Sprouts continue to grow from the roots but the blight, surviving in oak trees, takes it toll on young chestnut trees. The fungi do not affect the oaks.
The American Chestnut Foundation, using volunteers like Tucker, have a breeding program under way to produce blight-resistant American chestnut trees.
Because of a soil condition, most of the chestnut trees on Arthur Tucker acre have died from a disease called root rot. Arthur’s brother, Wendell, said he is keeping the chestnuts produced on the surviving trees in a refrigerator and will plant the nuts next spring.