Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A blight-resistant American chestnut tree has been created, but can it fit into the changed landscape?

"The American chestnut once towered over everything else in the forest. It was called the 'redwood of the East.' Dominating the landscape from Georgia to Maine, Castanea dentata provided the raw materials that fueled the young nation's westward expansion, and inspired the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Henry David Thoreau," Allen Breed of The Associated Press reports. But then the chestnut blight struck, and by the 1950s, the tree was nearly extinct. (Photo by Breed: 50-foot tall American chestnut in Grassy Creek, N.C. shows no signs of blight)

Scientists have been trying to revive the tree for decades, and now after 30 years of careful breeding and crossbreeding, The American Chestnut Foundation thinks it has developed a blight-resistant tree it is calling the "Restoration Chestnut 1.0," Breed reports. The AFC has adopted a master plan for planting millions of chestnut trees in the 19 states of its original range. Volunteers in state chapters of the group have established seed orchards that will produce regionally adapted nuts for transplanting into the wild.

But uncertainty about the tree's future remains, Breed reports. "The restoration tree is being introduced onto a physical and economic landscape that has long since learned to do without the once-indispensable American chestnut," Breed writes. There are concerns about whether it will crowd out other species, and how to convince landowners and governments that reintroducing the chestnut is worth it. There are also some who "will question the wisdom of trying to bring back something that could not survive on its own or, worse yet, 'engineering' a replacement that can," Breed reports. (Read more)

No comments: