Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Good News Post

Fans of Barbara Kingsolver who've read her "Prodigal Summer" are aware of the plight of the American Chestnut tree. A sub-theme of the novel is the destruction of the trees in the early 1900's. When the trees began to die out, locals cut down the majestic trees to be able to use the wood before it became too rotted to be valuable. Unfortunately, it nearly made the species extinct.

This month the National Geographic magazine reports that :

Blight-resistant American chestnuts on a Virginia research farm are striking back at the fungal disease that wiped out four billion of the majestic trees in the early 1900's. The superior pollen of this newly developed breed may be the key to protecting trees from Maine to Alabama-and returning Appalachia to a time when spring meant American chestnuts in bloom. Plant pathologist Fred Hebard has been on a 40-year crusade to do just that. He and his team pollinated about 500 trees last summer. Hundreds of devoted volunteers tend those trees and others in the foundation's orchards. Next year they'll sow a handful of forest test sites with what they hope are the first blight-resistant nuts. How will Hebard gauge success? "When I'm long gone, and someone 50 years from now measures one of our trees in the forest-a hundred feet and thriving."


Dean Wormer said...

When I first loaded this page and saw the picture of the leaf I thought this was going to be a medical marijuana post.

Happy to hear the American Chestnut is kicking ass and taking names.

Comrade Kevin said...


Now if we can just revive the passenger pigeon, I'll be satisfied.

Weeping Sore said...

My mom used to say that a real gardener was somebody who planted a tree so their descendants could some day sit beneath its shade.

Dr. Zaius said...

"My mom used to say that a real gardener was somebody who planted a tree so their descendants could some day sit beneath its shade." That's quite nice.

Has Homeland Security checked the papers of these trees? Sounds like they are trying to get into the country illegally! Somebody should call Lou Dobbs.

dguzman said...

Dr Z: And they call themselves AMERICAN?

I'm so happy about this. I actually learned about the American Chestnut in a woodworking magazine.

Ed said...

I believe Wisconsin has one of the few remaining stands of American Chestnuts in the wild. I don't remember where it is, though. There's a guy named Buzz who often appears on WORT during their pledge drives who knows a lot about American Chestnuts. One year he was giving out chestnut seeds to pledgers who would promise to care for them properly. I think the seeds came from the aforementioned stand. If you're interested, I'm sure WORT could put you in touch with him.

Suzy said...

Now that Ed has weighed in, I can say that I loved Prodigal Summer -- even if he didn't! Humans have been so stupid about wholesale devastation of species. Barbara Kingsolver, in one of her essays, talks about Carolina parrots, which lived as far north as Wisconsin. Native parrots in Wisconsin -- can you imagine? I like these articles that offer glimmers of hope.

If anyone wants to read an amazing book, check out The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, about the ivory billed woodpecker. It was heartbreaking, but excellent. I guess the jury is still out on whether there really have been sightings of ivory bills.

Mauigirl said...

I am always fascinated with bringing back nearly extinct plants and animals/birds. I am so glad to hear the American Chestnut may be able to be revived. We actually have an antique "pie safe" that is made of chestnut wood, and I bought it partly because it was chestnut and I knew how scarce it is.

A year or two ago I got obsessed with American Elms, which are also the victims of a blight, Dutch Elm Disease. I hadn't even realized there still were any left. Then I read there was one on our town green so I went to look at it. Once I realized what they look like I found a lot of them still around. Nothing like the tree-lined streets that once were the hallmark of the Elm, but here and there you can still find them. Like the Chestnut, there are some Elms that are immune to the blight and people are trying to breed new trees from the resistant ones; and I believe they are also trying to develop resistant hybrids.

I am fascinated by the Ivory Billed Woodpecker as well. I hope they still exist.