That annual exuberance of the American chestnut began fading from the landscape around 1904, when a blight imported on Asian chestnuts began rampaging from Maine to Georgia. They are high in fiber, vitamin C, protein, and carbohydrates, and low in fat. The trees grow best when American chestnut tree nuts are sown directly in the ground (with the flat side or sprout facing down, half an inch to an inch (1-2.5 cm.) By 1989 the American Chestnut Foundation had secured farmland to begin its research and breeding program at the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley in the small town of Meadowview, Virginia. Chestnut wood was used to make furniture, shingles, siding, telephone poles, and fence posts. American chestnut was once the most important tree of the Eastern North American Hardwood Forest. Scientists think the problems lie partly in the large number of strains in which both blight and hypovirulence occur. The American chestnut is native to southern and eastern parts of the United States, particularly along the Appalachian Mountains. American chestnut. These trees once reached the height of 30.5 … get minor bark infections that can produce inoculum. The American chestnut is a broad-leaf tree belonging to the beech family. “Pretty good.”. He explains that such a dose probably would have killed even resistant Chinese chestnuts. It has elongate leaves tapered at both ends and large teeth along the margins. *Are you enjoying this post? In Europe, such “hypovirulence” effectively stopped the blight from destroying that continent’s chestnuts. It was a magnificent tree used for lumber and for food. Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) is resistant; a small canker can occur. Backcrossing was how the King Ranch bred its famed Santa Gertrudis cattle to produce excellent meat while surviving the harsh south-Texas environment. So far, neither the hypovirulence or his transgenic blight seem able to spread efficiently on their own in the wild, which would be essential for becoming effective across the landscape. (Credit: American Chestnut Foundation), “He was haunted by the ghosts of these old chestnuts, by the great emptiness their extinction had left in the world. American chestnut trees once blanketed the east coast, ... Pennsylvania, the heart of the chestnut tree’s range. (Credit: Robert Llewellyn). With the chestnuts, it meant carefully selecting parent stock (cloned offspring of the USDA’s Clapper tree were among the first generation), then laboriously hand-pollinating the trees, and bagging female flowers in plastic to keep out undesired pollen. Griffin, an emeritus professor of plant pathology, has been working since 1973 grafting tissue from old survivors (and younger ones that have made it to about 15 inches in diameter) onto American chestnut rootstock, crossing these to one another. American chestnut. The key is a concept known as backcrossing. Today as we prowl the forests, its hard to think in the past tense and visualize that Castanea dentata, the American Chestnut hybrids, grown at the Hashawa Environmental Center in Carroll County, MD. A native of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill suburb, he’s not given to talking much about matters other than the science of chestnuts. (Credit: Vicky Sawyer). Before the early 1900s, the American chestnut was the predominant tree species in eastern forests. Far more numerous are chestnuts that sprout from the roots of felled forest giants, only to die in a decade or two from the deadly fungus that may never go away. Plans have already been laid to take the Meadowview program through another few generations of crossing to get an even better chestnut 20 years hence. Related Links. American chestnut was once a dominant and widespread canopy tree through many parts of the country, its range stretching from Mississippi to Maine. But because of its size and rather coarse look, and the possible litter of the prickly nut husks, it might be best-suited to a woodlot or semi-wild area. Reading the USDA’s published results, Burnham was shocked to realize that its scientists, including future Green Revolution Nobelist Norman Borlaug, had ignored a basic tenet of breeding resistance into crops. He expects that this will allow researchers to produce a chestnut that is pure American except for the addition of a few genes from the Chinese chestnut that confer disease-resistance. It was beloved by timbermen for re-sprouting readily from the stump and reaching diameters of two feet or more in little over half a century; an oak on similar soils would take a couple centuries to add as much wood. Native range of the American chestnut tree (castanea dentata) The American chestnut tree reigned over 200 million acres of eastern woodlands from Maine to Florida, and from the Piedmont plateau in the Carolinas west to the Ohio Valley, until succumbing to a lethal fungus infestation, known as the chestnut blight, during the first half of the 20th century. Today, more than 100 years after a blight forced it into extinction, scientists are resurrecting this once-great tree. Last year, Hebard challenged his first few sixth-generation “restoration” chestnuts by inoculating them with blight. Interpreting Wetland Status. He hit them hard with a massive dose, much more severe than they’d have received in nature, he says. Tennessee. (Credit: Melissa Boyle). At the forefront of this effort is The American Chestnut Foundation, which has chapters in 16 eastern states and a major research farm in Meadowview, Virginia. He understood that on his slow march toward his heavenly reward, he would spend as many years as possible growing and backcrossing the American with the Chinese chestnut . It is also adaptable to different soils and climates, and established plants can withstand drought. “I have no problem with what Fred is doing trying to produce a hybrid,” he says, “but a lot of people also just want to bring back the pure American tree.”. But now comes the best hope in over a century for restoring the species that once comprised a quarter of all eastern hardwoods, with economic and environmental values unmatched by anything in today’s forest. Fax: 202.737.2457 Lifespan American chestnuts that are not blight-resistant live only about five years. There is plenty of evidence that genetic resistance to disease can be recovered by crossing even trees with relatively low resistance; but it is taking awhile — “We’re about halfway there,” he ventures. (Credit: American Chestnut Restoration Foundation/USDAFS). Because it was one of the largest trees in eastern forests, it earned the title of “mighty giant." According to a historical publication, "many of the dry ridge tops of the central Appalachians were so thoroughly crowded with chestnut that, in early summer, when their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the … American Chestnut is a vigorous fast-growing tree. A project to spot chestnuts sprouting within sight of the Appalachian Trail has so far turned up more than 40,000, Burnworth says. In the next couple years, Hebard says, there will be larger-scale, more formal experiments testing the latest generation of trees’ resistance alongside Chinese chestnuts. An Incredible Tree. More Accounts and Images; ARS Germplasm Resources Information Network (CADE12) Flora of … The goal has been to develop a blight-resistant strain of the tree and, over time, reintroduce it to its natural range. Silvicultural and reintroduction trials provide an opportunity to experiment with planting chestnuts on field and forested sites. Among his concerns is whether we fully understand all the mechanisms chestnuts employ to resist the blight; also “Will the Chinese chestnut’s resistance, even if we put it all into an American tree, be enough? Once these crosses produced trees that were carrying chiefly the American chestnut genome — as much as 90 percent — they were ... state and national sites in the chestnut’s historical range. Burnham had always assumed that program, which crossed thousands of American and Chinese trees since the 1930s, would eventually succeed. Before the species was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range. 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