Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

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


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A Visit to the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation

DSCN3293Many of you are aware that I am a faculty member at Penn State Brandywine, right across the way from Tyler Arboretum.  Several times a year, I make the journey to the Penn State University Park campus in State College – which also happens to be the home of the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (PA-TACF)!  I have volunteered at Tyler’s chestnut nursery, and I’ve helped bag the harvested chestnuts.  Now, I know to where those chestnuts are shipped!

The PA-TACF office is in the Forest Resources Laboratory Building.  On a sunny/windy morning, I headed over to meet with Chapter Administrator Stephanie Bailey.  Stephanie was incredibly kind to allow me to spend a couple of hours with her, and she took me around their facilities and over to the chestnut orchards on campus.  Stephanie was incredibly knowledgeable about the program and the activities of the chapter – for example, did you know that Tyler is one of more than 150 (probably closer to 200!) chestnut orchards for the PA-TACF???

I learned that the hybrid chestnut seed orchard at Penn State began in June 2002 as a partnership between the PSU College of Agriculture, PSU School of Forest Resources, and The American Chestnut Foundation.  The orchard began with 257 three-month old seedlings, with more being added each year.  There are now three orchards established in State College.

I’ll let the photos below tell the story of my visit!

The refrigeration units that house the chestnut seeds we harvest from Tyler.

The refrigeration units that house the chestnut seeds we harvest from Tyler.

I even found a bag with a "Tyler" label!

I even found a bag with a “Tyler” label!

Then it was out to one of the greenhouses to see the seedlings start their growth

Then it was out to one of the greenhouses to see the seedlings start their growth.

Then, it was time to head out to the orchards!  For those of you on top of the classification for the backcross breeding program, the chestnut trees at Penn State are BC3F2.

A beautiful view across the orchard.  You can see one of the plots, where 150 trees from each "family" (cross) are planted to ensure that at least oen of them is homozygous for blight resistance.

A beautiful view across the orchard. You can see one of the plots, where 150 trees from each “family” (cross) are planted to ensure that at least oen of them is homozygous for blight resistance.

Rows and rows of tubes to protect the seedlings put in place by volunteers (and at times, knocked down by groundhogs!).

Rows and rows of tubes to protect the seedlings put in place by volunteers (and at times, knocked down by groundhogs!).

I had so much fun going around and seeing the work being done by PA-TACF in State College.  Stephanie was an excellent host and was so enthusiastic!  She is the perfect person to represent PA-TACF, and I know our Tyler chestnuts are in excellent hands!

And feel free to view even more photos from my trip!

 

 


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Scientific American reports on the American Chestnut Tree

Work will not begin at the Tyler Arboretum chestnut nursery for a few more weeks, but you can get a head start on learning about the American Chestnut Tree in this month’s issue of Scientific American.  This magazine does a great job writing about science topics without the jargon for a non-science audience.

The website for the March 2014 issue of Scientific American only gives a short preview for William Powell’s article titled The American Chestnut’s Genetic Rebirth (A foreign fungus nearly wiped out North America’s once vast chestnut forests. Genetic engineering can revive them), with the full article available in the print issue.  But there is a wonderful web article by Ferris Jabr available for free titled A New Generation of American Chestnut Trees May Redefine America’s Forests (Before an exotic fungus nearly wiped them out in the late 1800s, abundant chestnut trees shaped the forest ecosystem, providing food and shelter for numerous other species. In coming decades Chestnut trees engineered to battle the fungus could restore these lost relationships).

In diving deeper into the archives of Scientific American, I discovered that this magazine has been reporting on the American Chestnut since at least 1855, with an article titled Grafted Chestnut Trees.  Additional articles include:

1906 – A Disease Which Threatens the American Chestnut Tree

1912 – The Chestnut Tree Blight

1913 – Fighting the Chestnut Bark Disease

1915 – Chestnut Blight Poisoning

1990 – Chestnut Blight

2009 – Chestnut Trees Return to the Eastern U.S.

2009 – Chestnut’s Revival Could Slow Climate Change (*full article online!)

I find it interesting that there were articles in the early 1900’s, and then a large gap in reporting on the American Chestnut Tree for several decades.  It is good that the chestnut is back in the news – we still have so much more to learn, and much more work to do!

I hope to see you in Tyler’s chestnut nursery soon!

 


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More work at the Chestnut Nursery

I blogged previously about my first time volunteering with Tyler’s American Chestnut Nursery volunteer crew, a group that goes out every Thursday morning in the spring through fall to “assist with pollination and fruit harvest as well as maintaining the tree nursery, as part of the breeding program for The American Chestnut Foundation.”  I joined the group again on Thursday, September 19,  for harvest time!

Chestnut Nursery Volunteering - 09/19/13Chestnut Nursery Volunteering - 09/19/13The group met at the Maintenance Shed first to pick up gloves, tools, buckets, a ladder – all the supplies we would need across the street at the nursery.  Then we carpooled over and set to work!  We split in to two teams and started to carefully remove the chestnut burrs from the trees.  I say “carefully” for two reasons: (1) for research purposes, we had to record which burrs came from which trees, watching for crossing branches so we did not mix burrs from different trees in the same bucket; and (2) these burrs are prickly!  Ouch!  Thank goodness my work gloves were pretty thick, and Tyler was able to provide gloves to those volunteers that did not have their own.  Since we had enough people to work in teams, we worked on collecting the burrs at the higher reaches of the trees, while others held the ladders and caught the burrs as they fell to the ground.

Chestnut Nursery Volunteering - 09/19/13Chestnut Nursery Volunteering - 09/19/13We filled our buckets with burrs, ones not yet open and ones ready to have the chestnut seeds removed, and headed back over to the Maintenance Shed for our second task of the morning – removing the seeds, counting the number of seeds harvested from each tree, and packing them up in Zip-Lock bags with moist soil for shipment to Penn State University.  At Penn State, the seeds will remain in the bags and be placed in a 40 degree refrigerator until the spring.  In just one morning, we collected over 1,000 seeds!  That is alot of seeds, but there are so many more burrs that need to be removed from the trees.  It looks like we will be very busy in the next few weeks!  Although the nursery is fenced in, preventing deer from eating the seeds, birds are finding their way over the top of the fence, so there is some urgency to collecting as many seeds and burrs as possible to help with the research and overall mission to save the American Chestnut!

The final total of seeds sent to Penn State from Tyler’s nursery will clearly number in the thousands (John Wenderoth thinks the 4,000th seed will be shipped this week).  And to think that Tyler Arboretum is only one of over 150 chestnut orchards participating in the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation…. wow!  I have made a note to myself that, during a future visit to Penn State University Park, I’ll see if I can get a look at the storage area for all of these seeds and hopefully meet the chapter staff.  Volunteering with Tyler’s Chestnut Nursery group is certainly getting me excited for the PA-TACF fall meeting, being held at Tyler on November 2nd!


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Planting Chestnuts at Natural Lands Trust

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!