Ten improved American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) will be planted Wednesday (April 18) at the New York Botanical Garden, and scientists hope they might be able to survive the chestnut blight that wiped out most of the trees. The blight was introduced by error in the early 1900's, and within a few decades, most of the trees were gone.
The trees are being planted by scientists from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, with support from the American Chestnut Foundation. The new chestnuts contain a gene derived from wheat that detoxifies the oxalic acid produced by the blight and that kills the trees. Dr. William Powell, a biotechnology expert at ESF says if the oxalic acid can be eliminated, "we probably will get a resistant tree."
Powell also noted the importantance of the chestnut, a key species in Eastern forests, in providing nuts for wildlife and human consumption, and rot-resistant, fast-growing wood for the lumber industry. "It was an important part of our history," he said, and "we really want to bring it back."
Powell's colleague Dr. Charles Maynard, said the location of the planting is very important because it is just a short distance from the spot where the blight was first discovered in 1904.
The trees at the NYBG are among more than 100 varieties of new American chestnuts that are being tested in field trials for blight resistance at various locations around the country.
(photo: Am. Chestnut Foundation)