e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry
e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

Chestnut Lovers Gather at ESF


SYRACUSE, N.Y. - The majestic and once prolific American chestnut tree will draw tree fanciers - some toting coolers of chestnuts - from across New York to a conference in Syracuse this week.

The American Chestnut Foundation of New York, a group of non-scientists who support the research directed at saving the species, will meet Friday and Saturday at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF).

Participants will bring along chestnuts for their "Harvest Exchange," in which the nuts are traded among chestnut fanciers from different areas. The goal is to spread the trees' genes, preventing the entire stock in one area from being wiped out by the blight that killed most American chestnuts earlier this century.

The conference will include tours of the molecular biology and tissue culture labs on the ESF campus, where researchers are involved in genetic engineering work. Led by Dr. Charles A. Maynard, a specialist in forest genetics and tissue culture, and Dr. William A. Powell, a molecular biologist, ESF researchers are trying to develop an American chestnut that is resistant to the invasive blight.

Their effort to save the trees is being undertaken this fall with renewed energy. The current New York state budget provides $150,000 to fund the American Chestnut Program at the college.

The blight was first identified at the Bronx Zoo in 1904. By 1950, few American chestnut trees survived. The American chestnut is a member of the oak family. It tends to grow straight and it resists rot, making it suitable for use as telephone poles and railroad ties. Pioneers used chestnut logs for the foundations of their cabins and homeowners would likely use it for backyard decks if it were available today.

At least 80 people are expected to attend the conference. They will visit the Lafayette Experiment Station, where young chestnut trees are growing. In addition, they can attend a workshop that will train them in techniques for pollinating and collecting chestnuts. Foundation members gather chestnuts from trees in their areas and hand them over to the ESF researchers who use them in genetic engineering.

The meeting will begin with exhibits in Marshall Hall on the ESF campus and a social gathering Friday at the Genesee Inn in Syracuse. The Saturday schedule includes a business meeting, the workshops, and a luncheon on campus. The featured speaker at the luncheon will be College President Ross S. Whaley, whose topic is, "The Chestnut and the Cheshire Cat."