Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chestnuts may get another chance

High hopes for a chestnut comeback



About ten years ago, my daughter was doing a leaf collection. I used that as an excuse to stop and ask for a leaf from a large white oak that I particularly admired.

The old fellow who answered our knock was pleased that we liked his big old white oak. After we had a leaf from it, he asked if we had any chestnut leaves yet. Of course we didn't, and we could hardly believe our good fortune in stumbling across a chestnut.

He took us to his back yard, and showed us several large chestnut sprouts. A chestnut tree had once grown there, and its roots were still alive and sending up shoots. The shoots would grow for a while, he told us, but the blight would get them sooner or later.

He gave us a few chestnut leaves, and he also gave us a little bag of chestnuts! He commented that he had to pick them up as they fell or the squirrels would get them within minutes. I know why the squirrels wanted them. They were delicious.

That was the only time I've ever seen a chestnut tree or eaten a chestnut, but they were once a common and important tree through this part of Kentucky, and the entire Appalachian area.

The chestnut blight (a fungus) began to take its toll on the American chestnut in 1904. Now a century later, there's hope that chestnuts can be restored as an important tree in their natural range.

Some blight-resistant trees have been found, and they are being selectively pollinated and propagated with the intent of producing a blight resistant strain of American Chestnut. For example, a blight-resistant New Hampshire chestnut was recently pollinated by a blight resistant Tennessee chestnut (with the aid of scientists, of course.)

One group that is working to develop blight-resistant American Chestnut trees from 100% American stock is the American Chestnut Coordinators Foundation (ACCF.) It is a non-profit that is affiliated with Virginia Tech.

I don't know if the scientists who are working with the New Hampshire chestnut are from the ACCF, but that's exactly the sort of work they are doing. They are selectively breeding American chestnuts that have shown resistance to the chestnut blight. Their dream is to replant blight-resistant chestnuts in the natural range of the American chestnut.

Chestnut seedlings and seeds are available from the ACCF, with a small membership fee and an agreement to provide data about their health.

The American Chestnut Foundation (ACF)another non-profit organization, has recently received $100,000 in grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation to use in chestnut planting, pollination, and breeding.

Like the ACCF, the ACF is working to restore chestnuts throughout the former natural range of the tree. Their approach to the problem is different, though. They are developing blight-resistant hybrids of the American Chestnut and the blight-resistant Chinese Chestnut.

The chestnut was a valuable lumber tree as well as an important wildlife tree. It is surely just a matter of time until it is replanted on a broad scale. I hope my great-great-great grandchildren of the 2100s will be so accustomed to chestnut trees that they'll be surprised to learn of the problems the tree had in the 1900s.

More Information:
The American Chestnut Page
Growing Chestnut Trees
Reclaiming the American Chestnut's Old Dominion

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3 comments -- please add yours:

drb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
drb said...

Removed and reposted because of typo -- So without the typo:

Just a note to let you know I read each entry, always something interesting.

Genevieve said...

I'm glad you find something interesting here, drb, and I appreciate your kind comment. (Another way of saying it made me happy!)

My visitor counter shows that the readership of Tree Notes continues to grow. Even though this blog doesn't get many comments, it does have quite a few return readers, and it gets a surprising amount of search engine traffic.

So, I am pleased with how it's going here. I wish I had more time to write in Tree Notes, but real life keeps getting in the way!

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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