Heritage to Partner with the American Chestnut Foundation

American Chestnut tree in field with cows.

The Woods Aren't What They Used To Be

We’ve lost a lot over the years. The woods aren’t what they used to be, even in our lifetimes. Having come back after being deforested in the nineteenth century, the forest suffers anew. Ash trees are now just about gone, hemlocks are being sucked dry by the woolly adelgid, elms are rare, and beeches are twice threatened, with both the bark and leaves under separate attack.

One of the first giants of the woods to fall prey to disease was the American Chestnut. A fast-growing deciduous tree, it once proved its worth in several ways. Its nuts provided nourishment to wildlife and were a treat for humans as well. The lumber was straight-grained, easily worked and rot-resistant, and looked similar to oak. The bark was used for tanning leather and was especially good for the soles of shoes. Chestnut once made up about forty percent of the woods around here, towering a hundred feet tall with trunks several feet thick. Its limbs spread so wide that, as the poem goes, the Village Smithy could shelter beneath it. All this changed around 1904.

The Demise of the American Chestnut Tree

That was when someone in New York City brought in some Chinese chestnut trees. Along with them came a fungus that they had resistance to but proved fatal to their American cousins. The fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, enters the bark and begins producing oxalic acid, a substance found in many vegetables. The chestnut trees try to heal themselves, but the acid is too fast and eventually girdles the tree. It took only forty years for the fungus to complete its work in the eastern United States.

They have tried everything they could think of to eliminate the disease. They tried crossbreeding with Chinese and Japanese chestnuts, they tried to find ways of weakening the fungus, they even tried radiating the nuts in hopes of producing a beneficial mutation. Nothing has worked. Until now.

New Hope Thanks to Science

The best hope for re-introducing these trees lies with science. They found that introducing a gene from wheat, of all things, detoxifies the oxalate. Studies are underway and look promising. Several government agencies are involved to ensure that no new problems are created.

Our Partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation

Heritage is proud to announce that we will be partnering with the American Chestnut Foundation to re-establish this traditional symbol of national identity. While the details are still in the making, the plan is to establish a plantation in a field on John Brown Road. We are pleased to announce that Mr. Jack Swatt of the American Chestnut Foundation will be the speaker at our annual meeting this coming April.

Perhaps you know someone who would like to attend this presentation- school groups, scouts, etc. If so, please spread the word and have them attend our April Meeting to learn more.

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