Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hope for the American chestnut keeps growing

Hope for a revival of the American chestnut tree continues to grow, but it may be decades before its fate is known. Between 1904 and 1940, a blight imported from Asia attacked trees in New York and quickly spread, nearly wiping out an estimated four billion trees across the eastern U.S. Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times reports that a new chestnut strain, created in a chestnut mating project and dubbed B3Fe, may produce a new generation of trees resistant to the blight.

Fred Hebard, chief scientist with the American Chestnut Foundation's breeding program, "gets more requests from chestnut lovers vying for the right to plant a few B3F3s or their seedlings than he can grant," Susman writes. For now most of the test plantings are currently on government-operated forestland. Hebard knows he might not live to see the end of the project, which could take decades to determine new trees' level of blight resistance. "And that only tells you if you have a chance" at full resistance, he said. (American Chestnut Foundation photo)

Revitalizing chestnut populations could have a positive economic impact. "Americans spend $20 million a year importing chestnuts from Europe and Asia," Susman writes. The chestnut is attractive because it is gluten-free, cholesterol-free and less fattening than other nuts. "The trees' absence had a trickle-down effect on wildlife that foraged for chestnuts." (Read more)

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