Scientists at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry (ESF) are growing American chestnut trees that apparently survive the blight that wiped out most of them in the early part of the 20th century. The blight was introduced in the early 1900's, and within a few decades, the trees, once a prominent feature in the American landscape, were gone.
The photo shows two SUNY scientists in a plot with young, healthy chestnut trees. Dr. William Powell, an ESF professor, says he's convinced the new trees will survive. "Our goal was to develop an American chestnut tree that has blight resistance equal to that of a Chinese chestnut, and we are there. We've done it," he said.
If the new trees are approved by the USDA, the EPA, and the FDA, they could be available to the public in approximately five years. In the meantime, the ESF scientists may plant about 10 thousand seedlings so that they'll be ready for planting when the approval comes through. Dr. Powell said the trees they are growing are close to the original trees that were found in Eastern forests, and they have only a couple of additional genes. Recent studies also show that blight-resistant chestnut trees pass on that characteristic to the next generation.
Chestnut trees were valued for their rot-resistant wood and the abundant nuts produced by the trees were a valuable source of food for wildlife. And of course for roasting over those Christmas fires.
photo: SUNY - ESF