The iconic American chestnut tree is rebounding from virtual extinction, thanks to transgenic research funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio. Today we learn more about how the National Institute of Food and Agriculture invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.
Seventy years ago, when Nat “King” Cole first regaled us about roasted chestnuts in The Christmas Song, not many Americans could actually enjoy the treat because American chestnut trees were in dire straits.
The predominant tree in Eastern American forests was nearing the tail end of a 50-year blight that killed an astonishing three to five billion trees, making the species functionally extinct. Now, however, researchers supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are working to restore the American chestnut and may be only a few years away from bringing back the iconic tree. Read more »
An American chestnut seedling being planted on the Wayne National Forest in Ohio. Photo credit: Jared M. Dort, US Forest Service
The land of forest-covered hills, mountain music and coal has a lesson for restoration: healthy forests require healthy soils.
The forests of Appalachia, a region that extends from southern New York to Georgia, are considered to be among the most diverse temperate deciduous forests in the world, with as many as 30 different tree species growing together. Coal has played an important role in the development of Appalachian culture, but mining for coal has also created a need for restoration in extensive areas of the 13 states that make up the Appalachian region. Read more »
Using pest and tree photos, tables, and interactive maps, the Forest Health Advisory System provides vital information on future risks to forests across our nation. (U.S. Forest Service)
As our nation’s forests grow older and denser they are at greater risk of attack by pests, which can devastate some of more cherished national wildlands. Healthy forests not only provide a beautiful setting for our outdoor activities, they are at lower risk for catastrophic wild fires, and are more resilient to changes in climate and to insect and disease attack.
To address myriad issues facing our nation’s aging landscapes, the U.S. Forest Service has developed the Forest Health Advisory System, a web-based application that highlights potential future activity of more than 40 major forest pests and pathogens across 1.2 billion acres of treed lands. Read more »
James and Gail Cope look out over their land in Kentucky. USDA photo.
It was on a hilltop in eastern Kentucky where I first met James and Gail Cope, looking at the 27 newly planted American chestnut seedlings on their land. It was our common love for this rare tree that brought us together.
American chestnut trees once dominated the Appalachian landscape, but during the early 1900s a fungus struck the trees causing them nearly to vanish. The American Chestnut Blight, an Asian fungus, first struck in 1904 in New York City and quickly spread, leaving in its wake a trail of dead and dying stems. By the 1950s, the keystone species of some nine million acres of forests had disappeared.
The tree is important because it produces bushels of nuts for wildlife, and animals like squirrels, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, black bear, and grouse depend on the nuts for a major food source. Read more »
Leila Pinchot with an American chestnut sapling.
You may start out wanting to talk to Leila Pinchot about a Forest Service icon, but the great granddaughter of Gifford Pinchot has much more to say about the future of another legend, the American chestnut.
One of the seminal figures in world conservation, Gifford Pinchot founded and served as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. The eastern forests we know today are distinctly different than the forests Gifford Pinchot would have known 100 years ago – they are missing the American chestnut, which dominated forests in the eastern United States. Read more »