Once Widrlechner collects the seeds, he stores them in the Plant Introduction Station and also at a secure backup site at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Co.
The Plant Introduction Station is a joint project of Iowa State University, the USDA and the State Agricultural Experiment Stations of the 12 north central states as part of the National Plant Germplasm System. The facility keeps an inventory of many types of plant germplasm. The seeds are used in research locally and sent to researchers around the world as needed.
The effect of losing the nation's ash trees would be felt in many areas.
Throughout much of the U.S., ash is a popular shade tree along streets and in residential landscapes. The dead and dying trees pose major hazards and are expensive to remove, and will leave many city streets without trees for shade or beauty.
Also, Native Americans use ash trees for baskets and other crafts, and baseball bats are traditionally made from the wood.
The biggest problem might be in the hole that's created in the ecosystem.
"I'm really concerned," said Widrlechner. "You take a major tree out of the forest and what is going to fill the hole? Another native tree might do it or something non-native could fill the gap and change the ecosystem."
Despite the challenges, Widrlechner says there are reasons for long-term optimism.
Ash seeds tend to remain viable even after years of cold storage. If, and when, the germplasm in the Plant Introduction Station is needed, new ash trees should grow from the stored seeds.
A similar episode nearly wiped out the American chestnut nearly a century ago. In that case, fungus called chestnut blight brought in from Asia caused the devastation. After much work, researchers
|Contact: Mark Widrlechner|
Iowa State University