The American chestnut was a dominant species in eastern U.S.'s forests before a blight wiped it out in the early 1900s. Today it's being returned to the landscape thanks in part to work by a University of Tennessee Forestry alumna and the UT Tree Improvement Program (UT TIP).
Once used extensively for building, for tanning leather, as an important source of food for humans and wildlife, and even as nutritious fodder for hogs, the American chestnut seemed destined to be a memorya line in a Christmas song. In a few years, the public should be able to once again enjoy the benefits of the forest giant.
UT alumna Stacy Clark, lead researcher with the U.S. Forest Service restoration project, believes the chestnut's revival will become one of the great stories of American conservation. Her work in cooperation with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) and the UT TIP has resulted in test plantings of blight-resistant trees in three southern National Forests. Planted over the winter, the young trees are 94 percent pure American chestnuts. But the remaining 6 percent has blight resistance derived from the Chinese chestnut tree.
Simply planting a Chinese chestnut wouldn't solve the problem, Clark said.
"The American chestnut grows straight and tall, is highly valuable, and has highly flavored edible nuts," she said. "All that differs from the Chinese. We want the trees to look and act like an American chestnut. But they have to have the resistance genes from Chinese chestnut. That's the only way they're going to survive."
The young trees appear healthy and are growing well, but results from tree experiments come slowly, even for a fast-growth tree like the chestnut.
"We'll know in about five years whether or not the trees will be successful in early establishment," she said. "In 10 to 15 years we will know about blight resistance. It takes 10 to 15 years to get significant mast and another 15 years to get harve
|Contact: Margot Emery|
University of Tennessee at Knoxville