With digital technology we can see which stories in the CabinetMaker+FDM digital edition and our Daily Brief and Tip Sheet newsletters draw the most attention. We’ve done several stories on efforts to bring back the chestnut tree, and these have always drawn a lot of interest. So here’s a holiday summary of recent chestnut activity:
When chestnut trees blanketed the eastern forests there were no digital editions or Google searches. It has been estimated that there were four billion American chestnut trees in the forests of the eastern United States, and they accounted for about a quarter of the forest between Maine and Mississippi.
But the arrival of a fungus, a blight, in 1904 from Asia wiped out almost all the trees, leaving only a few, isolated stands, according to Nature.com. Since then, a faithful fan club of scientists and citizens has sought to tame the blight.
When we visited the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum a few weeks ago we picked up a brochure from the American Chestnut Foundation (www.acf.org) on the American chestnut story and its restoration. We’ve also read of efforts in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Iowa.
Chief scientist of the American Chestnut Foundation, Fred Hebard has bred thousands of hybrid Chinese and American chestnut species at the organization's research farm in Meadowview, Va. He has crossbred descendants of the original American chestnut with a much smaller Chinese variety which has some natural immunity to the Asian fungus. And after decades of work, he is within reach of his goal, a tall American tree with enough Chinese traits to keep it healthy.
“They're hard to breed and easy to kill,” Hebard told Nature.com, as he bored a hole in the bark of a hybrid and squeezes a mash of orange fungus into the wood. Hebard hopes that it has enough resistance genes to keep the blight at bay. If so, the hybrid could help recover a keystone species.
New England chestnut orchards
When we were in the Providence area a few months earlier we also read of another effort to bring back the chestnut. According to a column in the Providence Journal, five potentially blight-resistant seedlings were planted at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass. Other plantings have been done at the Roger Williams Park Edible Forest Garden in Providence, R.I., and at two American chestnut orchards run by University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners in South Kingstown, R.I.
The blight killed almost all American chestnut trees, but their root systems survived, according to the column in the Providence Journal. The University of Rhode Island gardeners are only using the strongest specimens in each generation for further breeding.
The process is a long and laborious one. Anyone with an interest in restoring the chestnut can take part in the effort. Contact the American Chestnut Foundation in Bennington, Vt., at 802-447-0110, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out www.acf.org.
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