The iconic American chestnut tree is rebounding from virtual extinction, thanks to transgenic research funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
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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 »
Clint Neel of Tennessee helps with pollinations at The American Chestnut Foundation’s orchards in Meadowview, Virginia. Photo by TACF.
Nature has transformers! With time and the help of bees, butterflies, birds and other critters, some flowers change into seeds. Sometimes, flowers in trees transform into nuts.
But sometimes these transformers need help. That’s where a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to The American Chestnut Foundation came into play.
The foundation competed for and was awarded a grant from NRCS to plant and grow genetically diverse, blight-resistant chestnuts and other high quality hardwoods to reintroduce and maintain forests on reclaimed mine sites in Appalachia. The American chestnut trees were once common, but, nearly vanished from the landscape because of an accidentally introduced fungus in the late 1800s. 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 »
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a popular line from a holiday song, are a tradition that at one time seemed imperiled by the decreasing population of chestnut trees. (USDA photo)
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” is a line from a song that conjures up fond holiday memories for some Americans. For others, the joy of roasting chestnuts has yet to be experienced. But the lack of American chestnuts could change in the coming years, thanks to some very dedicated people.
The U.S. Forest Service and its partners may be one step closer to restoring the American chestnut tree to parts of the mountains and forests of the southern United States. Since 2009, they planted close to 1,000 potentially-blight resistant American chestnut trees on national forests in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Read more »