Shelton’s rare American chestnut tree becomes a mother

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — American chestnut trees, which once dotted the landscape, have been a rare find for decades — which is why the city has become an arborist’s dream.

Shelton is home to an American chestnut tree, which sits beside the Rec Path close to Wesley Drive. Now a sign educating passersby of the history of the American chestnut sits beside the majestic tree.

Through the help of experts and United illuminating, the tree was pollinated over the summer. On Thursday, its seeds will be harvested to help keep the species from extinction

American chestnuts were once the predominant tree of eastern United States forests and important for their economic impact, Shelton Trails Committee member Val Gosset said.

“Large, tall and fast-growing, they were prime sources of rot-resistant lumber,” Gosset said. “Their nuts provided food for people, livestock and wildlife. All that changed in the early 1900s when American chestnuts were all but wiped out by blight.”

The American Chestnut Foundation has devoted itself to not only saving the American chestnut tree from extinction but restoring it to eastern woodlands, Gosset said, and this year, that mission led them to the Shelton Rec Path.

Teresa Gallagher, the city’s natural resource manager, first discovered the tree some four years ago. At the time, she was walking the trail and found some spiny burrs which she placed in a coffee can.

Gosset said fellow Shelton Trail Committee member Mark Vollaro is active in The American Chestnut Foundation, so he collected some leaves and sent them to the national group for confirmation that the tree was a pure American chestnut, not a Chinese chestnut tree or mixture of the two. Chinese chestnuts are relatively blight resistant and have partially replaced their American cousins in the ecosystem.

Once confirmation was received, Gosset said the next step was pollination.

“Since chestnuts don’t self-pollinate and there were no other flowering American chestnut trees in the vicinity, the flowers of the Shelton tree needed to be hand-pollinated to produce viable seeds,” Gosset said.

The American Chestnut Foundation recently pollinated the tree, with the help of United Illuminating and a Lewis Tree Service bucket truck. Now the project moves to the next step — harvesting the chestnut seeds which will happen on Thursday.

“The flowers of these majestic trees are far out of reach,” Gosset said. “Representatives from TACF brought pollen from other Connecticut flowering American chestnuts and applied it to the female flowers of the Shelton chestnut tree. The flowers were then covered with corn bags to protect them from any possible stray pollen.”

TACF and UI are again teaming up to harvest the nuts for planting in a Connecticut orchard next spring. The orchards is part of a cross-breeding program of American and Chinese chestnut trees.

Vollaro, who volunteers his time helping monitor the various orchards in the state, said the ultimate goal is to create a chestnut tree that is 98.6 percent pure American chestnut, with the blight resistance that exists in the Chinese chestnut tree.

“The hope is that descendants of the Shelton American chestnut will eventually be returned to the forest,” Gosset said.

For more information on American chestnut trees, visit