By Molly Haskell
Arbor Day is on Friday, April 28. Plant a tree! If you already have plans to plant one – or two – consider the American Chestnut, and be part of a nationwide effort to restore a species that is on the brink of extinction.
Many people may know that the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) was a critically important hardwood species until about 1900 when it was wiped out by Chestnut Blight, a foreign pathogen.
Amazingly, today, the underground rootstock of the American Chestnut remains healthy – the pathogen cannot survive underground. In scattered spots up and down the Eastern seaboard and into the Appalachian Mountains, American Chestnuts continue to sprout, flower, produce nuts, and die back – and then sprout again.
The American Chestnut Foundation (ACF – https://acf.org/) is always scouting for these trees, which have been reported in Bedford, Concord, and other neighboring towns. On your next woodland walk, keep your eyes open, and you may see an American Chestnut, working hard to survive the odds.
In 1983, the ACF launched research efforts to restore this important part of native forests, starting with native rootstocks. The ACF has been working hard on several strategies, one of which includes back-crossing American Chestnuts with Asian Chestnuts.
The goal has been to arrive at a hybrid with genetics that are as close as possible to 100 percent American Chestnut, but still retain resilience against the blight. Some orchards make seedlings from research farms available for retail.
I planted two hybrids last year from Perfect Circle Farms in Vermont. Run by a man named “Buzz,” Perfect Circle Farms source chestnuts from multiple research stations around the country. They arrived two years old, bare root, and they both doubled in size in one growing season. If you want nuts, get two. Put them in the ground, and give them plenty of room. Hurry! They go quick.
For more information about Perfect Circle Farms, visit https://www.perfectcircle.farm/.
For information about the Bedford Arbor Resources Committee, visit https://www.bedfordma.gov/443/Arbor-Resources-Committee.
Molly Haskell is chair of the Bedford Arbor Resources Committee.