R: Chestnut trees and their almost complete extinction seem a good area for research.
"Today, most American Chestnut trees only live to be between 10 and 15 years old. And then they get sick and die. This didn't used to be the case. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they used to live for 500 years, even 800 years. They were huge, more than a hundred feet tall ..People used to say that a squirrel could make it all the way from Georgia to Maine without ever touching the ground, just jumping from Chestnut tree to Chestnut tree."
"But then in the summer of 1904, a man named Hermann Merkel noticed something. He was the chief Forester at the Bronx Zoo... He noticed that the leaves on one of the American Chestnuts were brown and withering...there were small orange dots on the tree’s trunk and branches. First, he brought in gallons of fungicide in a horse-drawn wagon. But that didn't seem to have any effect at all. Whatever was making the American Chestnut tree sick was spreading. Hermann Merkel began to notice small orange dots on more and more trees. Next, it went from the Bronx down to the New York Botanical Gardens. Where 300 trees became infected and died. It spread across the East River into Brooklyn. 1400 dead trees in Prospect Park.
By May of 1908, The New York Times reported, quote, “Chestnut trees are doomed.” A researcher from the New York Botanical Garden told the paper that the disease was a fungus that appeared to kill the tree from the inside, getting underneath the tree’s bark and sort of starving it. He said, quote, “The spores from the fungi are formed in the fall and disseminated in the spring, not by the millions, but by billions. Everywhere there is a crack in the bark of the tree made by the wind or by the claws of a squirrel, these spores are deposited. And the work of destruction begins.” People wrote letters to the New York Botanical Gardens worrying that the blight was punishment for the quote, “Sinfulness, extravagance, and general wickedness of the people of the United States.” Scientists tried to quarantine the healthy tree. Farmers were told that if they saw any trees on their land that were starting to look as if they could be infected, they should chop them down right away. People came up with various ways to treat the blight: Drilling holes into the wood and filling them with rusty nails or pouring poison onto the trees’ roots. Boy Scouts had volunteered to search through forest to find any chestnut trees that had signs of the blight. And then chop them down and burn them. In February of 1912, scientists and politicians gathered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to talk about what to do. ...No one could stop it."
"As the science writer, Susan Frankel wrote in her book, American Chestnut, quote:
The blight killed between 3 and 4 billion trees. Enough trees to fill 9 million acres. Enough trees to cover Yellowstone National Park 1800 times over. Enough trees to give two to every person on the planet."
History of the American Chestnut
"The American chestnut, Castanea dentata, once dominated portions of the eastern U.S. forests. Numbering nearly four billion, the tree was among the largest, tallest, and fastest-growing in these forests. Because it could grow so rapidly and attain huge sizes, the American chestnut was often an outstanding feature in both urban and rural landscapes.
Chestnut wood was rot-resistant, straight-grained, and suitable for furniture, fencing, and building materials. In Colonial times, chestnut was preferred for log cabin foundations, fence posts, flooring, and caskets. Later, railroad ties and both telephone and telegraph poles were made from chestnut, many of which are still in use today.
Its nut fed billions, from insects to birds and mammals, and was a significant contributor to rural agricultural economies. Hogs and cattle were fattened for market by silvopasturing them in chestnut-dominated forests. Nut-ripening and gathering nearly coincided with the holiday season, and late 19th century newspapers often featured articles about railroad cars overflowing with chestnuts to be sold fresh or roasted in major cities."
"All of this began to change at the turn of the 20th century with the introduction of a deadly blight from Asia. In about 50 years, the pathogen, Cryphonectria parasitica, reduced the American chestnut from its invaluable role to a tree that now grows mostly as an early-successional-stage shrub. There has been no new chestnut lumber sold in the U.S. for decades, and the bulk of the 20-millon pound annual nut crop now comes from introduced European or Asian chestnut species, or from nuts imported from Italy or Turkey."
"The chestnut blight was accidentally introduced to North America around 1904 when Cryphonectria parasitica was introduced into the United States from East Asia from the introduction of the cultivation of Japanese chestnut trees into the United States for commercial purposes. It was first found in the chestnut trees on the grounds of the New York Zoological Garden (the "Bronx Zoo") by Herman W. Merkel, a forester at the zoo. In 1905, American mycologist William Murrill isolated and described the fungus responsible (which he named Diaporthe parasitica), and demonstrated by inoculation into healthy plants that the fungus caused the disease. By 1940, most mature American chestnut trees had been wiped out by the disease."
"Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 feet and could grow up to 100 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 14 feet at a few feet above ground level. The reddish-brown wood was lightweight, soft, easy to split, very resistant to decay; and it did not warp or shrink. For three centuries many barns and homes near the Appalachian Mountains were made from American chestnut. Its straight-grained wood was ideal for building furniture and caskets. The fruit that fell to the ground was an important cash crop and food source. The bark and wood were rich in tannic acid, which provided tannins for use in the tanning of leather. Many native animals fed on chestnuts, and chestnuts were used for livestock feed, which kept the cost of raising livestock low."
"Removing blighted trees to control the disease was first attempted when the blight was discovered, but this proved to be an ineffective solution. Scientists then set out to introduce a hyperparasitic hypovirus into the chestnut blight fungus. The trees infected with virus-treated fungus responded immediately and began to heal over their cankers. However, the virus was so efficient at attenuating fungal growth that it prevented spreading of the virus from an infected fungus growing on one tree to that growing on another tree. Only the virus-treated trees recovered. Scientific opinion regarding the future of the stand varies."
R: So we have these chestnut trees; they were enormous, all over the place, were a free food source for the poor, typically lived 500-800 years, and suddenly, they were mysteriously infected with a deadly parasite, which coincidently began at the same time they were injected with a "cure". At 500 to 800 years old, they probably presented a significant issue for chronology scramblers. It would have been easy to use dendrochrology to make deductions about our timeline that might have created questions about the presented narrative. Nowadays, if you have a healthy one, seems it's safe if the scientific establishment doesn't know it exists. If they get wind of it, they'll come and "protect it/try and save it for you" i.e take it away or inject it with a "cure", after which it becomes sick. I remember growing up with these gorgeous, massive, almost celestial trees, growing on the street I grew up on. They also lined the roads in nearby towns, and increased the beauty of the area, so profoundly. One day I noticed that they were all labeled , and later that year, cut down. Didn't matter how healthy they looked, they were all destroyed. It made me sad as a kid. Only now, as an adult does it strike me that these trees may have been purposely eliminated. I'm curious to hear other's thoughts about this.