When I started doing this column about three years ago, I had an early story on Feb. 17, 2007, about the "Loss of the Chestnuts." I finished the article about the possibility of these huge trees making a comeback.
For the past 40 years, researchers and volunteers from all occupations have been working together on the restoration of the American chestnut. However, the research required to produce a blight-resistant American chestnut hybrid is time-consuming, expensive and laborious. This also involves laboratory and fieldwork, plus a lot of patience as well. As the trees are cross-pollinated, nuts are produced and new trees are grown. Multiple back-crossings where the Chinese and American is crossed back to the American chestnut again results in a first generation 3/4 American to 1/4 Chinese chestnut tree. This series of crossings and back-crossings has resulted in a chestnut that is 15/16 American chestnut and 1/16 Chinese chestnut tree. The most blight-resistant of these are crossed with each other. This breeding method is designed to breed only the genes from the blight-resistant Chinese chestnut to the American chestnut to make it resistant to the blight.
The state of Virginia appears to be the leader in the efforts to restore the American chestnut to its native woodland habitat. According to Professor Gary Griffin at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, "It is not beyond the grasp of science to restore the American chestnut to economic importance. It could be accomplished within the next 50 years."
The United States National Arboretum has also taken an interest in the American chestnut using its own method of crossing and backcrossing to create hybrid trees that are resistant to the blight. Some trial plantings could be done this year.
In places scattered throughout eastern United States, some mature American chestnut trees appear to have some resistance to the blight:
In 1999, an 80-year-old 50-foot American chestnut was discovered in Adair County, Ky.
In May 2006, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources found a stand of several American chestnut trees near Warm Springs, Ga., not far from Franklin Roosevelt's Little White House. The largest of these trees is between 20 and 30 years old and about 40 feet tall. This tree is producing nuts. Researchers are trying to use the pollen from this tree to restore more blight-resistant trees.
In March 2008, officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that a rare adult American chestnut was discovered in a marsh near Lake Erie. The officials admitted that they had known about this tree for several years but kept its existence a secret. The exact location is still a secret because of the risk of infecting the tree.
In June of 2009, a mature American chestnut was found in Farmington, N.H.
Other mature American chestnut trees have been reported in Alabama, Michigan and Tennessee.
Earth Day is April 22 and Arbor Day is April 30. All concerned individuals interested in bringing back a tree that was once a monarch of the forest of eastern United States should consider planning an American chestnut tree. Seedlings are available and affordable from such organizations as:
n The American Chestnut Foundation
469 Main St., Suite 1
P.O. Box 4044
Bennington, Vt. 05201
n American Chestnut Cooperator's Foundation
2667 Forest Service Road 708
Newport, Va. 24128
n Empire Chestnut Co.
3276 Empire Road, S. @.
Carrollton, Ohio 44615-9515