Chestnut trees to spread across landscape again, says Purdue scientist

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University researcher is working to restore the American chestnut, an important wildlife tree and timber resource that dominated the landscape from Maine to Mississippi before it was driven to near-extinction by a fungal disease introduced about 100 years ago. Doug Jacobs, assistant professor of forestry in the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center at Purdue and director of the Indiana chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, studies how well American chestnut trees grow in plantations, research essential to future reintroduction plans. He also is developing a blight-resistant hybrid to be used in future planting projects.

In a paper to be published in the April issue of Forest Ecology and Management, Jacobs reports that American chestnut in a study plantation grew as much as 77 percent taller and 140 percent wider than two other forest species - black walnut and northern red oak - in the same plantation over an eight-year period.

On average, the chestnut trees in the plantation grew to 6.4 meters in height, while black walnuts and northern red oaks only grew to 4.4 and 3.6 meters, respectively, in the same time period.

"This data tells us that American chestnut is such a fast-growing species that it should do very well in future restoration programs," Jacobs said. "A lot of other species are much more sensitive, grow more slowly or just don't make it, but this tree tends to just explode out of the ground."

Jacobs' research is part of a larger initiative by the American Chestnut Foundation to restore the tree to its historic range.

The species was nearly decimated by a fungal disease known as chestnut blight, which was inadvertently introduced in the United States on imported Asian chestnut seedlings. The fungus enters through injuries in the tree's bark, spreads to the inner layers and blocks the flow of nutrients through the tree, eventually killing

Contact: Jennifer Cutraro
Purdue University

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