by Jonathan LaBorde, Sustainable Plant Systems major
This article is regarding the American Chestnut tree and its path to overcome the exotic pest fungus that has historically decimated its populations.
Anyone who has grown up in the American hardwood and Appalacchian areas knows that the American chestnut used to be an important hardwood timber tree. The total number of American chestnut trees was estimated at over three billion with 25% of the trees in the Appalachian Mountains being American chestnut. This was of course before the chestnut blight was introduced to the United States.
Chestnut blight is caused by the Asian bark fungus Cryphonectria parasitica. It was accidentally introduced to North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees. Since the Chinese chestnut trees have evolved alongside of this pathogen they are not susceptible though the American trees were highly susceptible.
The airborne fungus spread 80 km a year and in a few decades killed up to 3 billion American chestnut trees. This reduced population was scattered among Appalachia and many were saddened by the loss of their beloved chestnut forests. Trails and parks have been named after this iconic American hardwood such as ‘yellow mountain’ and’ yellow gap’ that are named when in fall the whole mountain would be turned golden from the changing colors of the chestnut’s leaves.
Just as soon as it might be an end to true chestnut trees in the U.S., technological breakthroughs are bringing them back. A new transgenic breed of American chestnut is resistant to the fungus and aims to help restore these forest giants to their home. A group at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestryhas successfully created a transgenic hybrid of these trees and is beginning to plant them in the forest. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to restore the forest ecology but with advances like this, the future for the Appalachian forest seems promising.
Blog post written by Jonathan LaBorde at The Ohio State University, Bachelors of Science in Agriculture – Major Horticulture.
This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.