Blighted icon: Volunteers aim to revive chestnut Associated Press Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Updated 7:30 a.m., Saturday, December 8, 2012 In the four years since planting the fuzzy, deep-brown nuts, he nursed the seedlings — through back-to-back droughts, a killing frost, even an infestation of 17-year locust — applying herbicides and mowing between the rows to knock down anything that might compete. [...] on a hot day this past June, Hurst moved methodically along the steep hillside, a petri dish in his left hand, and infected the young saplings with the fungus that will almost certainly kill them. Hurst hopes the trees on his hillside farm — part of a vast experiment in forest plots where this "linchpin" species thrived before the onslaught of an imported parasite — might hold the key to regaining that Eden. Dominating the landscape from Georgia to Maine, Castanea dentata provided the raw materials that fueled the young nation's westward expansion, and inspired the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Henry David Thoreau. At a national summit in Asheville in mid-October, the group's board adopted a master plan for planting millions of trees in the 19 states of the chestnut's original range. The restoration tree is being introduced onto a physical and economic landscape that has long since learned to do without the once-indispensable American chestnut. How do you convince landowners and government agencies that it's worth the money and effort? More than 500 years later, Peattie conjured that virgin landscape in full flower: "the great forest below waving with creamy white Chestnut blossoms in the crowns of the ancient trees, so that it looked like a sea with white combers plowing across its surface." Along the continent's Appalachian spine, chestnuts covered some 200 million acres — comprising fully a quarter and, in some places as much as two-thirds, of the upland forest. In an 1857 journal entry contemplating the chestnut's spiny bur, he rhapsodized on the wonderful care with which nature "has secluded and defended these nuts, as if they were her most precious fruits, while diamonds are left to take care of themselves." Tannins from the tree's bark cured the leather for belts that powered machines that drove the Industrial Revolution. The chestnut's naturally rot-resistant wood supplied most of the railroad ties and telegraph poles that knitted together the rapidly expanding United States. Entering through wounds in the bark, the fungus threads its way through the straw-like vessels that carry water and nutrients from the ground to the tree's crown. Soon after the blight was discovered, the U.S.