On April 21 and 25, high school students at the Tidioute Community Charter School in Tidioute, Pennsylvania, dug into forest research by volunteering to plant chestnut seedlings and seeds on Allegheny National Forest. Their work will help Northern Research Station scientist Leila Pinchot and her colleagues better understand the conditions necessary to successfully reintroduce an iconic tree to the landscape.
A giant of the American forest both in stature and importance, the American chestnut disappeared 100 years ago when chestnut blight, a disease caused by a fungus imported on Japanese chestnut trees, spread throughout the East and killed an estimated 3.5 billion of these giant trees.
Two groups are breeding chestnuts with increased resistance to the blight — The American Chestnut Foundation and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Both use a backcross breeding technique to breed Asian and America chestnuts through six generations. The resulting trees are fifteen-sixteenths American and one-sixteenth Chinese and should have increased resistance to the chestnut blight fungus. The resistance of the chestnuts from these two breeding programs is still in the testing phase.
For scientists, the prospect of a blight-resistant American chestnut tree poses another question: after American chestnuts have been gone for a century, how do foresters reintroduce them to the landscape? To address the question specifically for Allegheny National Forest, Pinchot and her colleagues are establishing a 10-year study to evaluate the influence of light availability and abundance of competing seedlings on long-term growth and survival of hybrid American chestnut seed and seedlings. The main objective is to test the long-term survival and growth of chestnut planted in each of the three stages of the three-stage shelterwood sequence used to regenerate oak.