Mariton: Chestnut Walk
by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager
Mike and Kieu Manes led a Chestnut Walk at Mariton on Saturday. Over the past few years, they have been locating and documenting Chestnut Trees at many locations, including Mariton for The American Chestnut Foundation.
The American Chestnut was a marvelous tree that all but disappeared from our landscape due to a fungal blight that entered the continent in the early 1900’s. Very few people are still around to recall when Chestnuts were the dominant tree in forests along the Appalachian Range. So, it would be easy to write off the loss as one more species gone. However, there are still American Chestnuts in our forests that continue to re-sprout from ancient root stock. In most cases those sprouts will get the blight and die off, but the root will send up another sprout. There are a few American Chestnut sprouts at Mariton that have been re-sprouting for close to 100 years. Imagine the potential if we could find a way to inoculate sprouts to help them withstand the blight.
The American Chestnut Foundation has spent a lot of time with a breeding program to breed the blight out of an almost pure strain of American Chestnut. Right now we have five tree seedlings at Mariton that are 15/16 American Chestnut that should be blight resistant. Both programs offer hope for the future of American Chestnuts returning to our forests. The propagation program is exciting, yet I continue to think of all the sprouts out there in our forests just waiting for a chance to grow old enough to flower and produce nuts again. The story of the American Chestnut is just one more reason that we should protect our relic forests.
Imagine a hope chest built from lumber of a 21st century American Chestnut tree. Now that is hope.