Rebirth of a great tree.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been following stories concerning the efforts to restore the American Chestnut tree. He thought that he’d blogged about this subject more frequently than it turns out he actually has. (He first blogged about American Chestnuts in 2005 - in the context of an oak blight.)

Your Maximum Leader has contacted researchers at Virginia Tech and offered to plant a hybrid Chestnut tree in his yard. Sadly he was denied by researchers at Tech because he has too many other trees on his property that it isn’t a good location at this point. Regardless of that setback, your Maximum Leader has been following the work of so many to bring back the Chestnut.

He was heartened to read this peice in the Washington Post this morning: The mighty American chestnut tree, poised for a comeback. Here is the opening:

Its sweeping canopy inspired poets, and its strong, straight timber shaped the stories of life in rural Appalachia, until the tree itself became the stuff of fiction. It is now more than a century since the American chestnut tree - once 4 billion strong and an icon of East Coast forests - fell victim to a foreign blight. By 1950, it had virtually disappeared.

Yet people haven’t given up on the towering hardwood or slowed efforts to restore it to great swaths of woodland from Maine to Georgia and in the Ohio Valley, where it once reigned through the canopy. Despite the failure of earlier scientific efforts to bring it back, thousands of chestnut aficionados - many based in the Washington area - have new reason for optimism.

By interbreeding the American with its Chinese cousin, tree lovers have created an American chestnut with some resistance to Asian blight and have developed a virus that can be injected into affected trees to combat the fungus. It’s a project that shows every sign of promise - with about 25,000 of the new chestnuts planted under the guidance of trained scientists and chestnut devotees.

If the hybrid plantings thrive, some envision huge tracts of strip-mined Appalachia one day being restored with lovely chestnut forests.

“We know we’re interbreeding resistance. Now we have to figure out, does it have enough resistance?” said Bryan Burhans, president of the American Chestnut Foundation, which has led the revival efforts.

He said it will take 75 to 100 years to know whether the tree can be reestablished as a mainstay of Eastern forests. But he said he’s “very optimistic” about the American chestnut’s future.

Some might be intimidated by the prospect of a century-long recovery effort - more than a person’s life span, if not a tree’s. But as Robert Mangold, who directs forest protection for the Forest Service, put it, “it’s a long-term commitment.”

Your Maximum Leader is hopeful that his kids and grandchildren will be able to wander through Chestnut groves in the mountains of the eastern US.

If you would like to help in the efforts to restore the American Chestnut, you should try and contact the American Chestnut Foundation.

Carry on.

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