Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

The sabbatical project continues, exploring all that Tyler Arboretum has to offer

Planting Chestnuts at Natural Lands Trust

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Chestnut Orchard volunteering

The top of a tree from Tyler’s Chestnut Orchard

I have just found what I think is one of Tyler’s most special treasures (granted, I am a scientist, so there is a little bias in my designation of a “treasure”)!  It is the Tyler Chestnut Orchard and the volunteers that work hard to run this program.  I knew of the Chestnut Nursery and was aware of the volunteering opportunities with the program on Thursday mornings, but it was the cover story in the Autumn 2013 issue of Tyler Topics that gave me that final push I needed to sign up to register.

The newsletter story provided a great overview of the American chestnut and how it was first threatened by a fungus from the Chinese chestnut trees imported at the end of the 19th century.  Since 1997, Tyler has been working with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) to produce a hybrid tree that is resistant to the blight.  I wanted to do my part to help the American chestnut, so on Thursday, September 5, I reported to Tyler Arboretum at 8AM for my volunteer shift.

Chestnut Orchard volunteering

Starting with digging holes to plant the chestnut trees

John Wenderoth is the volunteer leader of Tyler’s Chestnut Orchard and has been with the project since 2010.  Immediately, John and the six other volunteers that came out that day made me feel welcomed and part of the group.  I was not sure what to expect to be doing that day, but I was pleased to find out we were going to be planting ten chestnut trees at Natural Lands Trust in Media.  We loaded up the one-foot tall trees that grew from seeds planted in March of last year and headed over to NLT’s Hildacy Farm Preserve.

We met Mike Coll, the Preserve Manager, and headed out on one of the trails to begin planting!  We planted six trees in one location and four in another.  The trees were protected by plastic tubing with netting over the top (I learned the netting is to keep birds from flying in the tubes and getting caught and unable to fly back up and out).  As you can see from the photos, we worked hard – but I hope you can see that we had fun at the same time!

Chestnut Orchard volunteering

Site one of planting completed (note the mesh covering on top of the plastic tubes, attached to a wooden stake to keep the tube stable while the tree grows.

Chestnut Orchard volunteering

The second site where we planted trees.

After we finished at Hildacy Farms, John was kind enough to bring myself and another volunteer over to Tyler’s Chestnut Orchard.  In the past, I have visited different research facilities, from a rock core warehouse in Florida to an ice core storage facility in Colorado, and I have to say, I was just as “wowed and amazed” when I stepped through the fence and entered Tyler’s own research facility.  This outdoor site was not only beautiful to walk through, but it was exciting to be at a site that is contributing to significant work by a national organization to save a species in our biosphere.  John pointed out that the trees are just about ready to be harvested (see photo at the top of this post), and I cannot wait to come back to help!

The short time I spent planting and engaging in conversation around the chestnut has motivated me to not only volunteer again, but to learn more about the American chestnut.  Fortunately, there is a perfect book to help me out!  I’ve just downloaded to my Kindle Susan Freinkel’s book American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree.  I can’t wait to start reading, as I know it will make future opportunities I have to spend in Tyler’s chestnut orchard that much more meaningful and informative.  Who knows – maybe I’ll be able to learn enough to share with other new volunteers!

Chestnut Orchard volunteering

Tyler Chestnut Orchard – I will be back!

Author: Dr. G

Dr. Laura Guertin, Professor of Earth Science, Penn State Brandywine. Learn more at

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