BOONE—Eight chestnut seedlings have been planted in Appalachian State University’s Durham Park in a demonstration planting that is part of a new partnership between Appalachian and The American Chestnut Foundation. For the past 30 years, TACF has been breeding potentially blight-resistant American chestnut seedlings as part of its efforts to restore the American chestnut to the eastern forests.
The Durham Park trees include restoration American chestnuts, Chinese chestnuts, and progeny of a cross between a pure American chestnut and a Chinese chestnut. Interpretive signage will be added later so that students and others can learn the history of the American chestnut, which dominated the region’s forest and was economically important as a food and timber source before a fungal pathogen introduced in the early 1900s decimated the species within 40 years. The signage will also explain the genetic breeding process and the role that each of the eight types of tree plays in helping bring back the American chestnut.
“Only the best get to move forward in the breeding program and the weak ones will be removed. That’s what we do – we breed trees, we test them, we select the best ones, we plant them, breed some more, test and select the best ones,” said TACF’s Thomas McNeill Saielli at the planting ceremony. “We’ll keep doing this until we have a huge population of trees that are perfect American chestnut trees and are blight resistant. Then we’ll reintroduce them into the forests and help make this the dominant tree again.”
The university and TACF are also exploring how their respective researchers can further collaborate. This includes a possible large-scale planting at Appalachian’s Teaching and Research Farm in Ashe County.