Return_of_the_King_of_Trees-1

Return_of_the_King_of_Trees-1 - Return of the King of Trees...

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Return of the King of Trees Can biologists resurrect the mighty chestnut that once dominated the forests of eastern America? By Karen Wright DISCOVER Vol. 25 No. 05 | May 2004 | Environment In the early 1970s, plant pathologist Gary Griffin of Virginia Polytechnic Institute was hunting in the Blue Ridge Mountains when he stumbled on something far more valuable than the grouse he’d planned to bag. “I walked past an enormous chestnut tree,” he recalls. “It had died, but it still had intact bark.” Another man wouldn’t have given the snag a second glance. But such stately old trees—dead or alive—are essential to Griffin’s plans to rescue the majestic species from a tragic end. Unless you’re of a certain age, the only chestnuts you know are probably the modest Asian types imported as ornamentals. American chestnuts, by comparison, were giants as large as California’s redwoods. They made up more than a quarter of eastern woodlands, and their stout, straight trunks supplied unusually strong and rot-resistant timber. Then in the early decades of the 20th century, blight wiped out American chestnuts. The disease was discovered on trees at the Bronx Zoo exactly 100 years ago, and it soon spread throughout the chestnut’s natural range, from Maine to Mississippi. More than 3 billion trees died. Some survived as ravaged stumps, sending up shoots that would inevitably be attacked and die back over and over again. Chestnut blight is caused by a fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica , that was probably imported on Japanese chestnut trees purchased by a Long Island nursery in the late 1800s. Mail-order sales of chestnut cuttings may have spread the fungus far and wide long before the disease was recognized. The fungus grows in and under the bark, creating large, visible sores called cankers that prevent the flow of sap. If the cankers fully encircle the trunk, they effectively strangle the tree, and it dies from that point upward. “Functionally, it’s not that much Copyright © Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Courtesy of the American Chestnut Foundation A family photo circa 1920 captures the majesty of a stout American chestnut in Tremont Falls, Tennessee. A mature American chestnut tree is typically about 100 feet tall with a trunk about 5 feet wide. Chestnut timber is as rot resistant as redwood and lighter than oak. Rural Americans also prized chestnuts, which they harvested to sell as a cash crop or to feed to farm animals.
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different from taking an ax and girdling the tree,” says William MacDonald, a forest pathologist at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
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