By Peter Lowe |
A Species Threatened
The American chestnut was once a prominent member of the Appalachian hardwood forest; however, in 1904 chestnut blight was introduced to North America with a devastating effect. Chestnut blight, a fungus imported from Asia, is spread by means of spores in the air, raindrops, or animals and enters American chestnut trees through a fresh injury in the bark. The blight kills the vascular cambium of the tree, stemming the flow of nutrients to areas above infection, and eventually kills the tree. With no genetic material to protect itself, American chestnut populations have quickly began to diminish.
Hope for the American Chestnut Tree
Seeing an immense economic and ecological need to protect these trees from extinction, a group of plant scientists banded together to form The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). Founding members Philip Rutter, Dr. David French, and Dr. Charles Burnham developed a backcross breeding program to save the American chestnut by making it more resistant. The intention was to introduce the genetic resistance of the Chinese chestnut (which evolved with the fungus, developing a natural defense) into the American chestnut without losing any of our native trees’ characteristics. The process crossed the Chinese and the American chestnuts to produce a progeny that was 50 percent Chinese and 50 percent American. This tree was then backcrossed with the American species producing a tree that was 75 percent American. This practice was continued over and over to produce a full strain American chestnut with blight resistance. These trees are in the testing phase to confirm their resistance. Currently available and produced by TACF is the 15/16 American chestnut and 1/16 Chinese chestnut.
The Dawes Arboretum’s Chestnut Research Plot
In keeping with The Arboretum’s dedication to conservation, we had the privilege of working with TACF in 2012 to grow and install our own chestnut research plot. In April 2014, The Dawes Arboretum and TACF, along with many volunteers, teamed up again to expand the chestnut plot by installing 450 American chestnut seedlings in our research plot. As we continue collaborating with others in conservation, as well as researching these trees, we are able to help preserve this staple of our woodlands.
The Mission of The American Chestnut Foundation
“The goal of TACF is to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife, and our society. The American Chestnut Foundation is restoring a species – and in the process, creating a template for restoration of other tree and plant species.”
The importance of preserving this staple of our woodlands extends beyond an environmental impact, but also has an economic impact on the agriculture and timber industries. Be part of the conservation plan to help save an important piece of our natural environment, the American chestnut tree. To provide donations to this project or others, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800.44.DAWES (32937).