Once dominant in eastern forests, the American chestnut, which accounted for up to twenty-five percent of all hardwood trees, was pushed to the brink of extinction by perhaps the deadliest plant blight ever. The blight which attacked and destroyed the American chestnut was brought in from Asia on imported species of trees. First discovered in 1904, the blight spread quickly through forests from Maine to Florida. By 1950 the mature American chestnut forest was all but dead. Individual trees, and a few stands are all that remain.
Today there are promising prospects for the restoration of the American chestnut due in a major part to the efforts of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). Established in 1983, this non-profit organization is breeding and planting blight resistant strains of chestnut trees. The Asian species of chestnuts are resistant to the blight. By cross-breeding these species with American chestnuts, TACF hopes to develop an American chestnut that will be resistant to the blight.
On Friday, May 15th faculty members from the Glenville State College Land Resources Department were joined by Dr. Bob Paris, a plant geneticist with The American Chestnut Foundation, for the planting of the first chestnut orchard in West Virginia. Over one hundred seedlings donated by TACF were planted in a field on property used by the GSC Land Resources Department. The orchard includes a variety of chestnut strains including: 100% American chestnut , 75% American chestnut and 25% Chinese chestnut, 87.5 % American chestnut and 12.5% Chinese Chestnut, 15/16 American chestnut and 1/16 Chinese chestnut. “This orchard at Glenville State College is our first in West Virginia. It will be used for testing and research of The American Chestnut Foundation’s breeding program. We hope it will help increase public awareness of the effort to restore the American chestnut,” said Dr. Bob Paris. TACF will be developing similar orchards in other locations including reclaimed surface mine sites.
A second orchard with ten chestnut seedlings was planted next to the GSC greenhouse near Eberle Hall. This orchard will be utilized as a breeding orchard for making crosses that will be adapted to this region and be blight resistant.
“These orchards will provide our GSC students with hands-on experience in tree genetics, greenhouse work, pruning, and propagation. It will also serve as a valuable community service project and help to build a better appreciation of the American chestnut,” said Rick Sypolt, GSC Professor of Forestry and Land Surveying and Chair of the Department of Land Resources.
To learn more about the American chestnut visit firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the GSC chestnut orchards contact Rick Sypolt at (304) 462 -7361 ext.6371.
GSC Professor of Forestry and Land Surveying (left) and TACF Geneticist Bob Paris place plastic tube around chestnut seedling to protect it from hungry wildlife.
GSC Instructor of Land Surveying Rick Witte (left) and Dr. Milan Vavrek, associate professor of Natural Resource Management, plant chestnut seedlings.