As you may know, the American Chestnut tree used to be a prolific provider of nourishment over the winter months, and the tree was found all over the Eastern seaboard. However, in 1904 a bark blight was introduced from Asia, which spread and destroyed almost all the trees. Now, once the tree grows enough to develop bark, the fungus girdles and topples it. The tree still lives with sprouts coming from around the trunk. For many years, dedicated organizations have been trying to breed blight-resistant trees.
The Mass/RI Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation and The CIty of Pittsfield plans to establish a chestnut seed orchard in Springside Park in Pittsfield. Pittsfield is the first municipality in MA to sign such an agreement with the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF). The city is looking for organizations who can bring volunteers to the initial effort, which will be on Sat., May 24th, 9AM to 4PM, lunch provided. The plan is to plant 12 of what will eventually be 20 plots with four rows of 40 chestnut nuts in each plot; so around 2000 nuts to be planted. The nuts to be planted are what they call B3F2, meaning that they are the 2nd intercross between chestnuts that are genetically 15/16ths american. They expect two or three of the resulting trees in each plot will be highly blight resistant. After about 10 years, one tree from each plot will be selected as the "pick of the litter" and the remaining 39 trees in each plot will be cut down. The remaining 20 trees (one from each plot) will be allowed to grow to maturity and the nuts will be harvested and used to reestablish the American Chestnut in our forests.
The goal of the American Chestnut Foundation is to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife, and our society. The American Chestnut Foundation is restoring a species - and in the process, creating a template for restoration of other tree and plant species.
In 2005, they harvested their first potentially blight-resistant chestnuts. They are now in a phase of rigorous testing and trial, in both forest and orchard settings. It is their confident expectation that they will one day restore the chestnut to our eastern forests. The return of the American chestnut to its former niche in the Appalachian hardwood forest ecosystem is a major restoration project that requires a multi-faceted effort involving 6,000 members & volunteers, research, sustained funding and most important, a sense of the past and a hope for the future.