The American chestnut tree has made quite a comeback.

The American Chestnut Foundation, along with local farmers and field researchers, worked tirelessly to bring it back to life. Here is a closer look at how it has been revived.

Since the early 19th century, ink rot disease and chestnut blight have destroyed hundreds of millions of American Chestnut trees. At one point, they were almost extinct.

The American Chestnut Foundation has led the push to revive them. The ACF in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, worked to resuscitate this Redwood of the East. With the aid of science and technology, chestnut trees are now thriving in Michigan.

The ACF has taken numerous steps in this “unprecedented rescue mission.” They run a research farm based in Virginia. With modern science, breeders are able to genetically modify the trees.

While the chestnut tree can be afflicted with numerous diseases, modern science gives it more than a fighting chance to survive. The ACF has crossed American chestnuts with Japanese, Chinese and European strains in efforts to optimize them.

One such strain is the Colossal. It is a cross between the European and Japanese chestnut trees.

The ACF enhances their efforts through the use of transgenics. For example, select genes may be isolated and stacked in order to optimize a new strain.

In breeding with biotechnology, the ACF has developed chestnut hybrids that are blight resistant. A well-known type is the Transgenic Darling 58 American Chestnut Tree. After four generations of crossbreeding, the ACF has newer hybrids that are resistant to root rot.

Plus, they employ biocontrol, which is used to combat a range of tree ailments. Their collective strategy has been dubbed 3BUR: Breeding, Biotechnology, and Biocontrol United for Restoration.

This strategy is said to counter the effects of climate change as well. To that end, researchers at Michigan State University also assume a lead role in statewide recovery efforts.

With that being said, certain conditions must be met for chestnut trees to thrive. They need minimal heat, proper soil and sufficient rain. In fact, the chestnut thrives all the way from Maine down to Mississippi.

Early farmers in West Michigan planted chestnut trees up and down the Lake Michigan coastline. Many sprouted in the so-called fruit belt of western Michigan. But many groves in that part of the state were plagued by disease.

The distribution of Michigan’s chestnut tree population continues to change. Today, a high percentage of them are concentrated within 100 miles, from the Silver Lake area north to Traverse City.

In the Leelanau County area just west of Traverse City, chestnut clusters grow and could eventually expand into a chestnut forest.

All active in restoration efforts are seeing the fruits of their labor, as chestnut trees enjoy a resurgence among the natives. Over the past two decades, demand for chestnuts has spiked.

Michigan leads the nation in chestnut production, still the people want more. The state produces 100,000 pounds of chestnuts per year.

There has been an increase in orchards and farms that cater to the public for chestnut picking.

LaFever Chestnuts operates an orchard with 70 acres in Fenton. They count 350 chestnut trees on the property. The Livingston County farm is open for chestnut picking in September and October. The public may even roast their chestnuts on site.

The chestnut is filled with nutrients like potassium and Vitamin C. And it has essential minerals.

The nuts are increasingly used in a variety of ways. They can be chopped and served as a dip or even convert to a sweet dessert. They are made into flour, and toasted chestnuts are brewed into beer. Chestnut soup and chili are other options.

Using his own field experience, MSU researcher Dennis Fulbright started a business called Treeborn Products Inc.; Fulbright offers chestnut flour and chips.

The American Chestnut has proven to be a precious asset. It is among the most valued trees for various reasons. From its durable wood to bountiful harvest, this tree is a gift that keeps on giving.

This tree has played a key part in American history. It had its share of setbacks through the years, but has risen from the ashes. The American chestnut tree stands tall once again.