The American chestnut tree featured at UGA Warnell School Lecture Series

Athens, Ga. – The Warnell School Lecture Series at the Daniel B. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources will present Fred Hebard, staff pathologist for the American Chestnut Foundation, as its featured seminar speaker on Thursday, April 20 at 4 p.m. in room 1-304 of the Warnell School complex, with refreshments provided at 3:30 p.m. Hebard’s discussion topic will be “The American Chestnut Foundation and Restoration of the American Chestnut Tree.”

Before the turn of the 20th Century, the American chestnut tree dominated the forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Historical estimates argue that this noble tree provided as much as fifty percent of north Georgia’s forest cover. However, just before 1900, the chestnut blight fungus was accidentally introduced into the United States from Japan and began killing-off all American chestnut trees. By the 1950s, the combination of the chestnut blight and destructive logging methods of the time eradicated all mature American chestnut trees from the Appalachian Mountains.  Today, although stems continue to sprout from the stumps of killed trees, most are infected by the fungus and killed before they can reach maturity.

While the magnificent American chestnut tree has disappeared from the landscape, samples of its genetic composition still survive, and efforts are being made by tree breeders and forest biotechnologists to regenerate this tree species with a resistance to the destructive blight. This effort is being led by the American Chestnut Foundation, which has established a backcross-breeding program to move blight resistance genes from the Chinese chestnut into the American tree.  Biotechnological approaches to combating the blight are being researched by Scott Merkle, Professor of Forest Biology at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

A mature American chestnut tree would be considered a monument in today’s Appalachian forests. Standing up to 100 feet tall with a life-span as long as 300 years, a mature American chestnut could reach up to 60 inches in diameter. The wood from the American chestnut was of high quality for lumber and furniture and therefore was in high demand during the north Georgia logging heyday of the early 20th century.

This seminar is open to anyone familiar with north Georgia’s forestscape and curious about what it might have looked like before the destruction of the American chestnut tree. Fore more information about the American Chestnut Foundation, visit their website at http://www.acf.org/.