The Landis Arboretum is cooperating with the American Chestnut Foundation on a project that, hopefully, will speed the restoration of the American chestnut tree into American forests.
In 1904, a plant disease was accidentally introduced from Asia. Within a few years, the blight had spread and exterminated the chestnut tree from our forests, where it had been a very important species. Chestnut trees were big and tall, providing excellent lumber and beautiful cabinet wood. Their nuts nourished wildlife, Native Americans, and, later, settlers and their livestock.
The American Chestnut Foundation is a member-funded group that is attempting to bring these trees back. The Foundation is not a government agency, so it needs member support and the kind of volunteer help that Landis is providing.
The Foundation has been successful in developing a resistant species which has only two genes — of 40,000 – that differ from the original American chestnut species.
Lots of non-resistant chestnuts have been planted in “orchards” around the country, including here at Landis. When the Foundation has produced enough fully resistant trees, pollen from those trees can be used to fertilize the chestnut tree flowers in Landis’ and the other orchards. It is expected that some of the nuts produced — perhaps as many as 50% — will have fully resistant properties. The Foundation believes enough of these non-resistant chestnuts will survive to make the project successful.
On June 6, 2018, Arboretum volunteers planted five seedling chestnuts, spread along the Native Plant Trail as far as possible, all located in sunshine and in well-drained soil. They protected each new tree with hardware cloth and chicken wire to avoid damage from voles and rabbits. Deer may not be a problem when the trees mature, but if they are, then the trees will be fenced.
If you notice these new trees, don’t be dismissive of their small size. The trees of our native plant collection were all this size when planted in the years since 2001, and some are now over 20 feet tall!