Of literally billions of chestnuts growing in the tree’s historic range when the blight hit, only dozens of pre-blight survivors struggle on in the wild today. The little trees represent the sixth generation of a breeding program begun by the 6,000-member ACF in 1989. The profound impact forests had on one of America’s greatest authors and his writing. Last year, Hebard challenged his first few sixth-generation “restoration” chestnuts by inoculating them with blight. For more details on the American chestnut tree, please visit our Field Guide page. There is a lot of incompatibility, which retards spreading; also, European chestnuts probably have a little more natural resistance than American chestnuts, which allows the hypoviruses to work more easily there. ACCF geneticists calculated that perhaps 10% (estimates range from 5% to 20%) of the plants produced in this manner will exhibit blight resistance at least as favorable as the parent trees. It was a magnificent tree used for lumber and for food. “It was just a preliminary test, with no controls, not a scientific experiment,” he says. “Oh, they all died.” All Rights Reserved. Remnant root systems are resilient and continue to send up new shoots that eventually succumb to the blight. It survives in the wild in the form of root systems and stump sprouts. The American Chestnut Foundation is working to restore the chestnut to its natural range. American chestnut trees once blanketed the east coast, ... Pennsylvania, the heart of the chestnut tree’s range. Researchers have estimated that 1 out of every 4 trees in the Appalachian Mountains was an American chestnut. Hebard was even a model for a character in local writer Barbara Kingsolver’s best selling novel, Prodigal Summer: The American chestnut’s distinctive leaves, burs, and nuts. . (Credit: Melissa Boyle). He cites pollen profiles from North American lakes that show virtually all hemlocks simply vanished from the forests some 5,000 years ago — probably of a disease still unknown — and then reappeared throughout their range a few centuries later. When you decide to start planting American chestnut trees, it’s important to begin early in the spring. Researchers say they are strong performers, reaching three to seven feet, some flowering at an earlier age than normal. A mature chestnut’s sweet, carroty-tasting nuts—as many as 6,000 from a single tree — were nearly a perfect food for both settlers and their livestock, as well as an array of wildlife from turkeys to bears. Most were nearly barren of branches for 50 feet or better, living up to what would become their nickname, “the redwood of the East.” These were massive trunks, some 16 … A chestnut with a disease-resistant wheat gene has already been produced experimentally by researchers William Powell and Charles Maynard at the State University of New York’s Environmental Science and Forestry school in Syracuse. And you get an award-winning magazine. Approximately 15⁄16ths American and 1⁄16th Chinese, “It’s probably not the best tree we can achieve, but it’s good enough to start planting,” says Kim Steiner, director of Penn State University’s arboretum, and a science advisor to the Chestnut Foundation. Silvicultural trials allow us to learn how chestnut grows under different forest management scenarios. Complementary programs would be added throughout the historic range of the chestnut as the foundation’s state chapters grew to include 15 states. Chestnut wood was used to make furniture, shingles, siding, telephone poles, and fence posts. Today, more than 100 years after a blight forced it into extinction, scientists are resurrecting this once-great tree. The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. 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. History of the American Chestnut American chestnuts, giants that could grow up to 125 feet tall and 16 feet wide, once dominated the forests of Appalachia. Then they do it all over again, generation after generation, hoping that genetic theory, forecasting a chestnut worthy of reintroduction after six crosses, corresponds to reality. American chestnut is a member of the beech family. Powell says a $5.6-million project that includes sequencing all the genes in the chestnut is two years from completion. 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. (Credit: Robert Llewellyn). Furthermore, they believe that the progeny of these plants should all exhibit natural blight resistance. American Chestnut Habitat The graphic shows the range.... Eastern North America, from Mississippi to Maine mostly on the spine of mountainous uplands that slopes in an upwards, northeasterly direction from the Southland. The loss of the chestnut was an ecological calamity with few equals. The American chestnut tree was extremely useful to those who lived in its range. “Pretty good.”. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was one of the most common trees in the area. “Meanwhile,” he says, “we’re going to plant. Just as the chestnut blight appears here to stay, so does the movement to restore the chestnut to its place in the forest. He hit them hard with a massive dose, much more severe than they’d have received in nature, he says. It was a huge, majestic tree, with a very straight stem. The majestic American chestnut tree was once common throughout the forests of eastern North America, providing sweet, meaty chestnuts for humans and wildlife. With the state chapters, we’ll put millions of these trees throughout their range.” They will go, Hebard says, on available lands in national forests, on private property, and also to reforest abandoned strip-mined sites across Appalachia in a partnership with the federal Office of Surface Mining. “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.”. Fred Hebard says he’s seen understory chestnuts only an inch in diameter that show 60 years of growth rings, followed by growth that approaches an inch a year after they get access to light. A project to spot chestnuts sprouting within sight of the Appalachian Trail has so far turned up more than 40,000, Burnworth says. Their native range encompasses most of the Appalachian mountain range, as far north as southern Maine and south as far as Alabama. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, monoecious deciduous tree of the beech family native to eastern North America. A pure Chinese chestnut, resistant to the blight. The chestnut was a common species in the deciduous forests of the upland Appalachian region, which stretches from Maine to northern Mississippi and includes southern New York. In Carroll County, Maryland, in partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation and American Forests, more than 18,000 school children each year participate in a science curriculum built around experimental chestnut orchards. (Credit: Vicky Sawyer). Related Links. The Romans ranked chestnuts alongside the olive tree and the grapevine as plants important to civilization. You cross Chinese and American parent trees, then breed successive generations back to the desired (American) parent, eventually winnowing out all the undesired Chinese characteristics (shrubby growth, for example) except for its disease-resistance. This planting, at a place fittingly known as Chestnut Ridge, will intersperse the chestnuts with other native species — white pine, red oak, black cherry, sugar maple — “the first attempt to see how they compete in a real-world situation,” says Sara Fitzsimmons, another chestnut researcher at Penn State. With this latest hybrid, unofficially dubbed the “Restoration” chestnut, breeders feel they have a tree with enough of the Chinese chestnut’s natural blight resistance to have a shot at surviving; but also a tree that is virtually indistinguishable in form, growth rate, and wood quality from a pure American chestnut. 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. Then breeders wait years for the offspring to grow, inoculate them with blight, and select as few as one out of every 150 trees that show the best resistance and most American-like growth habit. 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. Fred Paillet, a University of Arkansas geoscientist who often writes on chestnuts, has taken the long view. It is present in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. 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. For two decades now, this historic quest has fallen to Fred Hebard, a taciturn, almost shy plant researcher who has directed the Meadowview facility from the beginning. While the Chestnut Foundation’s new, resistant trees are the first soldiers to be deployed against the blight, other ongoing programs could soon bear fruit: a chestnut genetically engineered for blight resistance; genetically altered strains of the blight fungus itself that weaken it; and, farther from success, breeding a pure native with resistance by crossing old survivor chestnuts to one another. The goal has been to develop a blight-resistant strain of the tree and, over time, reintroduce it to its natural range. Researchers say they are strong performers, reaching three to seven feet, some flowering at an earlier age than normal. Before the species was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range. These “redwoods of the East,” as they were sometimes called, made up between one quarter and one half … “Maybe only yellow poplar, on excellent yellow poplar sites, might outgrow it,” says Kim Steiner. There are also ongoing efforts to develop trees that are resistant to the disease. 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. They anticipated the effort would, after several generations, produce a chestnut fit for recovering a vanished part of the American landscape and heritage. If trees could talk...a region's history as told by its ancient trees. This article was published in the Winter 2010 issue of American Forests magazine. More Accounts and Images; ARS Germplasm Resources Information Network (CADE12) Flora of … Interactive Koppen Climate Classification Map for the United States; Overview Information American chestnut is a plant. Nuss has cloned the hypovirulence and inserted it into a transgenic chestnut blight whose effects on trees are far less severe. Existing trials have examined planting in gaps of various sizes, clearcuts, closed canopy, shelterwoods, and multi-step management prescriptions. (Courtesy photo American Chestnut Foundation) Sometimes reaching a height of more than 100 feet tall with trunk diameters often well over 10 feet, the American chestnut was the giant of the eastern U.S. forests. The process of tree breeding is not given to “eureka” breakthroughs. Scientists think the problems lie partly in the large number of strains in which both blight and hypovirulence occur. Tax ID: 53-0196544, © 2021 American Forests. American chestnut. “And?” If you could custom design the ideal tree species, you couldn’t come up with a better one than American chestnut. American chestnut grew over a wide range in eastern North America. He explains that such a dose probably would have killed even resistant Chinese chestnuts. Consider supporting American Forests to help us continue our work to restore, and grow healthy and resilient forests and city canopies all over the country! The “Amherst tree” is so large, so gnarled with age, and so rare that, like a few dozen other long-surviving chestnuts, it has been named. Another hope lies with engineering a transgenic chestnut. An Incredible Tree. There are now only 100 or so that remain. 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. The American chestnut was one of the largest trees in the forests of eastern North America. Its nuts were consumed by animals and people alike, and it was widely used as timber. . The key is a concept known as backcrossing. The main concession to how the forest has changed since the chestnut last dominated will be a sturdy deer fence (“Please, make deer reduction the lead of your story,” implored one chestnut breeder). It was some hundred years ago that these chestnut trees dominated the forested hills and mountains. 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. 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. The story of the native American tribes is strikingly similar to that of the American chestnut (Castanea dentata). And before they died, the little chestnuts exhibited about the same response to the blight, forming only slight cankers, as he would have expected of naturally resistant Chinese chestnuts. “Chestnut brown was considered the most beautiful shade of a woman’s hair, and the man who had a chestnut beard was usually considered handsome… silks and satins were available in chestnut brown,” wrote 101-year-old Georgia Miller of Pennsylvania a few years ago, recalling her childhood in chestnut forests. Now, thanks to collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, The American Chestnut Foundation and institutions like the University of Tennessee Tree Improvement Program, those blight-resistant trees are on the horizon, and scientists are developing silvicultural strategies to restore them to forests across their former range. His funding comes from the National Institutes of Health, which is interested in how viruses work; the chestnut hypovirulence is one of the easiest ways to study this, Nuss says. That’s the merest wisp of what Peattie described; “But we’re excited,” says Meghan Jordan of the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), which supplied the trees. Free! And next spring in Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County, about 500 more of the blight-resistant chestnuts will be planted on a private, cutover forest plot, Steiner says. An American Chestnut Tree planted inside Bernheim’s Arboretum Prior to the 1900s, the American chestnut tree once dominated over 200 million acres of the eastern hardwood forest from Maine to Georgia, and west to the Ohio River Valley. Be decades before it ’ s clear this is more than 30 million acres disease that came from introduced trees... All exhibit natural blight resistance challenged his first few sixth-generation “ restoration ” may... 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