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Chestnut redux.

The American chestnut is poised for a comeback with a high-profile planting this summer in Washington, but a Purdue University researcher warns "there is a whole new set of obstacles to get past" before the tree again covers the American landscape.

A blight in the mid-1900s all but killed off this beloved species that once accounted for an estimated one-fourth of trees from Maine to Florida and west into the Ohio valley. Researchers have been cross-breeding the American chestnut with the Chinese chestnut, which is resistant to the blight. The hybrid is then further bred to remove all non-American characteristics--except disease resistance.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne planted one of the disease-resistant trees in Washington, DC, this past summer to symbolize an effort to restore the fabled tree to Appalachia.

Douglass Jacobs, a Purdue University researcher who is helping develop blight-resistant trees, offered hope for overcoming the blight but warned in a separate release that researchers still must deal with policy limitations, new data, public education, and new threats posed by exotic pests like root rot.

The supply of blight-resistant trees remains low, which means the public won't be able to buy the trees for about a decade, Jacobs said. He added that more trees should be included in breeding programs soon to produce a genetically diverse population of trees.


At the Department of Interior in July, Kempthorne saluted the tree and its return.

"In planting this tree, we are planting the hope and making a commitment that this noble hardwood will be restored to the American landscape and its vital ecological role in our nation's forests," said in planting the tree. "With our partners from the American Chestnut Foundation and the mining industry, we are working to help return this natural icon to Appalachia by planting it on reclaimed surface mine lands."

"The coal fields of Appalachia match up almost perfectly with what once was the natural range of the American chestnut," Kempthorne said. "And we have discovered that chestnuts grow twice as fast on the loosely packed soils commonly found on reclamation sites." Reclaimed mine sites in Appalachia are surrounded by forests, leading to speculation that wildlife will help scatter seeds from reclaimed areas to nearby forests.

Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) is working with the American Chestnut Foundation, states, tribes, industry and environmental groups to encourage the planting of chestnut trees at reclaimed coal mines. More than 3,000 pure and hybrid trees have been planted on surface mines in all seven Appalachian coal states.

The chestnut's beauty and strength made it an American favorite and popular for building and furniture. The nuts were an important food source for deer, birds, and livestock.
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Title Annotation:News from the world of Trees
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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