American Chestnut

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Project Overview - The University of Tennessee's Tree Improvement Program (UT-TIP) has worked toward the restoration of American chestnut (Castanea dentate) since the program was founded in 1959. The demise of American chestnut in Tennessee began in the mid-1800s, when mortality was noticed in bottomland chestnuts and the related Allegheny chinkapin (Castanea pumila var. alleghenensis). The mortality was caused by an exotic root rot disease caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi, which probably entered this country in the 1830s on contaminated soil from Europe. Upland chestnut populations and chestnuts on well drained sites were not affect by the root rot disease. In Tennessee, these populations survived until the 1920-30s, when chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica), became prevalent in Tennessee forests.

Professor Eyvind Thor, the UT-TIP first leader, initiated research on American chestnut shortly after he was hired by the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station. Professor Thor located surviving trees in the southern Appalachians and grafted them into a breeding orchard. Over the next 25 years, he attempted to increase blight resistance in pure American chestnut, but was not successful. When Professor Schlarbaum took charge of the program, the breeding orchard and progeny tests were dead.

Chestnut research under Professor Schlarbaum has been primarily confined to studying the requirements for early establishment of high quality chestnut seedlings. The American Chestnut Foundation's Meadowview Farm, where the Foundation's primary breeding program is conducted, is within 30 miles of Bristol, Tennessee. Resistant seedlings from the Meadowview Farm will be adapted to much of eastern Tennessee. Therefore, UT-TIP research was directed toward understanding the relationships among genetics, seedling quality, and silvicultural treatments in the restoration process of American chestnut. Pure American chestnuts were used for this research, as they would perform similarly to the American Chestnut Foundation's final breeding product.

Pennsylvania Experiments - In 2000, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and the University of Tennessee established four tests of American chestnut (Castanea dentata) on Pennsylvania State Forests in the eastern and middle portions of the State. The seed for the study was collected by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation and planted at the Georgia Forestry Commission's Flint River Nursery.