Skip to comments.N.H. Chestnut Tree May Rebirth Species
Posted on 07/18/2007 6:39:48 AM PDT by Daffynition
-- A healthy American chestnut tree discovered on a New Hampshire farm may serve as the "mother tree" to bring back a species nearly wiped out by Asian blight.
The tree was found on a 125-acre parcel owned by Bill and Nancy Yates. Bill Yates remembers 60 years ago when American chestnuts lined the road near his home before the tree was all but wiped out on the Eastern seaboard. American Chestnut Foundation officials hope to use the tree as a way to bring the tree back to New Hampshire.
Leila Pinchot, the foundation's New England science coordinator, pollinated the 40-foot tree Monday using pollen from a Tennessee chestnut that has developed resistance to the blight.
The Asian blight, which first started infecting American chestnuts around 1904 in New York City, is a fungus that enters wounds in trees and grows in and under the bark until it has grown through the trunk, according to the foundation.
Scientists have crossed the Chinese chestnut, which is resistant to the fungus, with the American chestnut to produce blight-resistant trees. The process is a slow, but may eventually make chestnut a common species again, Pinchot said.
Pinchot put 80 small bags around blossoms on the Yates' tree 10 days ago. After pollinating the blossoms Monday, she retied the bags to prevent airborne pollen from fertilizing or blocking the fertilization of the blight-resistant pollen.
Sometime this fall, the tree should produce chestnuts that will be collected and planted in a Vermont orchard where they will be closely monitored, Pinchot said.
The foundation said eight trees have been pollinated this way and their nuts harvested over the past year. The goal is to cross-pollinate 20 trees in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Pinchot said the foundation also has been working with the state to plant the blight-resistant trees in state forests.
The foundation has just recently started a chapter in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Yates contacted the foundation after seeing an ad in a magazine.
"They were very interested because they said it was a pure American chestnut," Yates said.
Don Black, coordinator for forest resources for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said chestnuts once were one of the most valuable trees in the United States.
"They were good for firewood, furniture and houses because they don't rot, and they have an edible nut," he added. "It's a beautiful wood."
If the cross-pollination program works, the state will have chestnuts again, said Black.
"People have been waiting for something like this for a long time," he said.
Past efforts have not succeeded. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station launched vigorous programs soon after the blight was discovered. But the program failed to produce trees with strong resistance to blight that also retained the desirable traits of the American chestnut. The U.S. program was discontinued in 1960, according to the foundation.
The foundation has worked with the Connecticut agency, whose program continued.
Blight-resistant trees have been planted in orchards in Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts, Pinchot said.
"In the next couple of years we should have resistant nuts in New Hampshire," Pinchot said. "There are chestnut roads everywhere (in New England), and it shows how big a part of the landscape it was. It can be again."
I won’t live long enough to see it, but it would be a great thing to have elms and chestnuts become common again.
I have a vague recolection of a few Chestnut trees that grew in my hometown.
Apropos surname for such an endeavor.
I hope it works. I love trees, although I’m allergic to them. :)
There was a time when the American chestnut was the very heart of our forests. Wild life of many kinds depended on its nuts, which often fell in such abundance as to carpet the floor of the forest. Rural folk depended on the nuts too (as did their livestock), for they were tasty and nutritious. And the American chestnut provided timber unrivalled in quality. Straight-grained and strong, easy to work and rot resistant, chestnut lumber went into everything from barn beams to furniture.
That time is gone. This tree, once the dominant species over much of our Eastern forests, was brought down by a disease. It was not a native disease but an exotic one, an accidentally imported fungus to which our trees had no resistance. From its point of introduction in New York City around the turn of the century, the Asian chestnut blight moved outward at a remarkable pace; fifty years later, all that remained of the species on which so much richness of life depended were millions of acres of dead but still standing stems.
But the time of the chestnut can return. Recent developments in genetics and plant pathology promise that this magnificent tree will again become part of our natural heritage. In 1983, responding to these developments, a group of prominent scientists established The American Chestnut Foundation.
Not too long ago, the American chestnut was one of the most important trees of forested from Maine south to Georgia, from the Piedmont west to the Ohio valley. In the heart of its range only a few generations ago, a count of trees would have turned up one chestnut for every four oaks, birches, maples and other hardwoods. Many of the dry ridgetops of the central Appalachians were so thoroughly crowded with chestnut that, in early summer, when their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the mountains appeared snow-capped.
And the trees could be giants. In virgin forests throughout their range, mature chestnuts averaged up to five feet in diameter and up to one hundred feet tall. Many specimens of eight to ten feet in diameter were recorded, and there were rumors of trees bigger still.
Native wildlife from birds to bears, squirrels to deer, depended on the tree's abundant crops of nutritious nuts. And chestnut was a central part of eastern rural economies. As winter came on, attics were often stacked to the rafters with flour bags full of the glossy, dark brown nuts. Spring houses and smokehouses were hung with hams and other products from livestock that had fattened on the harvest gleanings. And what wasn't consumed was sold. Chestnut was an important cash crop for many Appalachian families,. As the year-end holidays approached, nuts by the railroad car-full were shipped to New York and Philadelphia and other big cities where street vendors sold them fresh-roasted.
The tree was also one of the best for timber. It grew straight and often branch-free for up to fifty feet. Loggers tell of loading entire railroad cars with boards cut from just one tree. Straight-grained, lighter in weight than oak and more easily worked, chestnut was as rot resistant as redwood. It was used for virtually everything - telegraph poles. Railroad ties, paneling, fine furniture, musical instruments, even pulp and plywood.
Then the chestnut blight struck. First discovered in 1904 in New York City, the lethal fungus - Asian organism to which our native chestnuts had very little resistance - spread quickly. In its wake it left only dead and dying stems. By 1950, except for the shrublike spouts the species continually produces (and which also quickly become infected), the keystone species on some nine million acres of eastern forests had disappeared.
For decades plant pathologists and breeders tried to create a blight-resistant tree by crossing our own species with the resistant Chinese tree, but always with unsatisfactory results. Now, advances in our understanding of genetics have shown us where those early researchers went wrong. More importantly, we now know what path we must take to successfully breed an American chestnut with resistance to this deadly invader. We now know we can have this precious tree back. (American Chestnut Foundation.)
I have a friend that has a 30” diameter chestnut in his front yard. It has somehow escaped the fungus for about 30 years he has had the house. Perhaps there are no other chestnuts capable of spreading the blight in the local area.
This is a web photo of this incredible monster, the largest tree in CT. My photos of it aren't much better because the light was all wrong at that time of day when I was there.
Connecticut's Largest Tree, a sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is named in memory of Gifford Pinchot. The tree is located on the east bank of the Farmington River in the Weatogue section of Simsbury. The late William Linke of New London, who began the Notable Trees Project, provides scale in this 1985 photograph by G. Dreyer.
A marker at the site reads:
THE PINCHOT SYCAMORE
CIRCUMFERENCE 23 FEET 7 INCHES
DEDICATED MAY 1 1965
IN MEMORY OF
1865 - 1946
BORN IN SIMSBURY, CONNECTICUT, CO-FOUNDER OF
THE YALE SCHOOL OF FORESTRY, FIRST CHIEF OF
THE US FORESTRY SERVICE, CONSERVATION
ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT,
GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA
RE-DEDICATED IN 1978
AS A GIFT TO THE TOWN OF SIMSBURY
BY CHARLES SCHNIER
THIS MARKER GIVEN BY SIMSBURY RESIDENTS
INTERESTED IN CONSERVATION
I want chestnuts back. My great-grandfather was a housebuilder and carpenter and his favorite wood was chestnut. In the sixties and seventies he still had access to “wormy chestnut” - the trees were dead and tunnelled a bit by wood borers but they did not rot.
I keep waiting and hoping for them to release nuts or tissue-culture saplings - I would plant them in a minute.
The American Chestnut Foundation in Bennington VT expects to have limited quantities of a highly blight-resistant backcross chestnuts available for initial testing and research (though not available to the general public). Seeds are expected to be available for wider distribution in the following 5 to 15 years.
Currently, TACF members are able to purchase PURE, not resistant, and guaranteed to blight (see Q&A #2) American chestnut seeds and seedlings.
Once there were 4 billion trees. Then came the blight...
How many different strains of chestnuts are there? I remember in the 70’s, there were two pretty healthy chestnut trees in a patch below the house... (West Tennessee)
Really sharp spikes on the hulls of the nuts, and really meaty brown kernals inside, about the size of 1/3 of a golf ball, I guess. I seem to remember my grandfather calling them “Horse Chestnuts”.
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