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Chestnut trees planted on campus as part of TACF’s restoration work

BOONE—Appalachian State University and The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) will host a demonstration tree planting Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 11 a.m. near the gazebo in Durham Park on campus. The public is invited to attend.

The partnership between the university and TACF is part of the university’s focus on sustainability. The demonstration planting will include two potentially blight-resistant American chestnut seedlings. The seedlings, called Restoration Chestnuts 1.0, are part of a research program headed up by TACF to restore the American chestnut to the eastern forests of America.

Also included in the demonstration planting are two pure American chestnuts, two Chinese chestnuts, and two F1 chestnuts (the progeny of a cross between a pure American chestnut and a Chinese chestnut), which are the basic components of TACF’s backcross breeding program to breed a blight resistant American chestnut. The demonstration will serve as a visual example of the integration of Chinese chestnut resistance into pure American chestnut trees.

Chestnut trees once dominated the landscape of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

A blight in the early 20th century, possibly imported with Japanese chestnut tree stock, destroyed the American native species within five decades. TACF is breeding American chestnut trees with the ability to survive the blight disease and reintroducing the species through their restoration work.

The demonstration planting will be a valuable resource for students and others, according to Saskia L. van de Gevel, an assistant professor in Appalachian’s Department of Geography and Planning. Her interests include endangered mountain forest ecosystems in eastern U.S. forests.

“High-elevation hardwood forests in the Appalachian Mountains were historically dominated by the American chestnut, which comprised between 25 percent and 75 percent of southern Appalachian forests,” she said. “To have lost almost half of our trees because of the chestnut blight and not have these trees as part of the landscape is unfortunate.”

“To connect people to the nature and susceptibility of different species is important,” van de Gevel said. “This demonstration planting will provide valuable access to a cultural heritage tree species that is important to our region.”

Once the mighty giants of the eastern forests, American chestnuts stood up to 100 feet tall, and numbered in the billions. They were a vital part of the forest ecology, a key food source for wildlife and an essential component of the human economy. In the beginning of the 20th century an Asian fungus – known as the chestnut blight – spread rapidly through the American chestnut population, and by 1950 it had killed an estimated four billion mature trees from Maine to Georgia. Several attempts to breed blight-resistant trees in the mid-1900s were unsuccessful.

In 1983, a group of scientists formed The American Chestnut Foundation and began a special breeding process, which in 2005 produced the first potentially blight resistant trees called Restoration Chestnuts 1.0. Now assisted by nearly 6,000 members and volunteers, the organization is undertaking the planting of Restoration Chestnuts 1.0 in select locations throughout the eastern U.S. as part of the Foundation’s early restoration efforts.

“Demonstration plantings like this one are significant for the restoration of the species,” said TACF Regional Science Coordinator Thomas Saielli. “They allow us to share the story of the American chestnut and generate interest from local citizens to join in our efforts.”

For more information on TACF and their work to restore the American chestnut tree, contact TACF Director of Communications Mila Kirkland at 828-281-0047, email mila@acf.org or visit http://www.acf.org.

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