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!




PA Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation Fall Meeting

The Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (PA-TACF) held their annual fall meeting at Tyler Arboretum on Saturday, November 2.  If you have been following this blog, then you have seen my previous posts on the Chestnut Nursery program that Tyler participates in with The American Chestnut Foundation – all managed by the amazing volunteers that donate their time to Tyler!

The meeting began with some announcements by the chapter president, and then the morning continued with two talks on “A Sense of Place – Northern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service” and “Are Deer Facilitating Plant Invasions?”  After some general membership announcements and lunch, the talks continued with “USDA-ARS Research Update on Renewable Fuels from Agricultural Feedstocks and Forestry Feedstocks…” and the final talk by… yours truly!  I was asked to give a talk that served as an overview of Tyler Arboretum (what I titled “The Tyler Experience”).  After my talk, the meeting adjourned to going over and visiting Tyler Chestnut Nursery and/or going on an exploration of Tyler’s sites and trails.  The full agenda can be viewed online.

The meeting was held in The Barn and had over 50 people in attendance.  I sat in the back row and saw an audience very engaged and passionate about not only their work restoring the American chestnut, but also very interested in learning about the related topics shared by the speakers.

2013 PA Chapter Meeting, The American Chestnut Foundation

Kristine Averill (PhD candidate from Penn State University) speaking on her research, examining whether deer demonstrate a preference for native or invasive exotics

As my academic training is mostly in the physical sciences and not as deep in the natural sciences, I learned quite a bit at this meeting!  I’ve had an introduction to the chestnut work through my own reading and volunteering with Tyler, but this conference was very helpful in framing the “big picture” of the ecosystem and related fields.  I was also interested to see the PA Chapter was selling Biltmore Sticks, a measurement tool I had read about but had never seen before (learn more online and in this video about this field tool).


Photo of a Biltmore Stick

There was also a mention during the General Membership Announcements section about the need to do even more outreach, and the chapter had this very nice display set up that was geared to teach younger kids about the American chestnut.  I agree that each one of us has the opportunity to “get the word out,” whether it be through public talks or using social media (you can “like” the PA-TACF Facebook page) – or, by blogging (like I do!).

2013 PA Chapter Meeting, The American Chestnut Foundation

Display created by the PA Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, used for outreach and education purposes

Overall, I was honored to be able to share the mission of Tyler with this group, as well as provide a peak in to the history, nature, and education mission of the Arboretum.  And I even learned some new items along the way – the USDA Forest Service is doing science to keep “forests in forestry,” deer population management will help in managing plant invasions, and there is much research being done (and that continues to be worked on) relating to biofuels.

This is one of many, many events I know where Tyler serves as a host for outside organizations to have meetings, receptions, etc.  For the PA Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, I can’t think of a more perfect setting they could have selected for their meeting!

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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!