I took clippers and a friend to help me with some Chestnut Guilt Sunday afternoon.
A year ago I helped scouts and students plant 18 chestnut saplings on a slope by the South Fork, on the Confluence trail. All spring long I hiked the trail and watched the newcomer trees thrive. Proud Midwife!
But the hot summer and fast-growing vines kept me from leaving the trail to check on the chestnut babies.
Before long, I could not see them.
By August my guilt was as hot as the sun, strangling like a honeysuckle vine. I ignored it.
Only now, after a first freeze, was I ready to see how many survived their first summer of inattention.
Jane came with me. We climbed to the top of the orchard, past a stray Bradford Pear, dodging thorny hybrid rose canes. There we found our first chestnut.
Twelve months in the ground, small and the leaf was dead. But the pencil sized trunk was limber and alive. Jane pounced on the vines that overgrew it. I searched for another. A big one, maybe two feet high, full of chestnut colored leaves, stood in a charmed circle. We enlarged the circle.
Another smaller tree up by the DOT fence was covered in broom sedge. Cleared! So we worked our way down the slope. My guilt eased with each yank of a honeysuckle root.
I remembered the bright young man who led the project in fourth grade, at Morningside Elementary. Thomas Rudolph and his classmates put nuts in pots in a window and watched them spring to life. Special nuts with some immunity to Asian Chestnut Blight. Two dozen nuts survived the classrooms' experiment and Thomas visited them over the summer at Tony Powers' Hardware Store greenhouse.
Then he led the planting of the 18 saplings which made it through the summer. WABE Radio did a news story on returning chestnuts to the South Fork. Then I sort of stopped paying attention. I know Thomas had a big first year in Middle School.
It takes patience to raise an orchard, and hot work fighting invasive non-native vines. I'm not there yet. So finding a tree growing quietly under a tangle of vines was inspiring.
Jane and I celebrated each little twig we found. Six. Seven. I chopped down the Bradford Pear. Beside it was Chestnut Eight. And then nine.
There may be more, but that was enough for today. My guilt on hold, we scrambled down to the trail. Nine out of eighteen? I want to call Thomas and the boy scouts who helped to plant them. We are batting five hundred. I will take that. I bet they will, too.
Chestnut Restoration The Trail- Food for Thought
In early March, we planted seven dozen experimental hybrid chestnut seeds with high hopes for green sprouts, joining an effort to reintroduce the American Chestnut Tree after a century of extinction caused by the Asian Chestnut Blight.
We planted seven dozen orchards of what the Foundation calls F1 (1st fillial) generation. This means that, on average, the genetic material of each seed is 50% pure american and 50% chinese. This hybrid generation is a cross between pure american and a pure chinese parents. In each orchard of a dozen seeds, there are 10 of the hybrids and two controls: one pure American Chestnut and one pure Chinese Chestnut. Unfortunately, aside from a few hopeful saplings, most of the seeds remained firmly in their shells.
However, the “Morelli” seeds planted and tended by students at the Garden Hills and Morningside elementary schools offer a shining silver lining. The Morelli seed comes from a thriving hybrid Chestnut (generation unknown) on a residential street in Roswell, Georgia.
In 2014, the American Chestnut Foundation increased the scale of our classroom project based on a successful seedling yield from 2012 and donated over 100 Morelli, pure American, and pure Chinese seeds. This allowed each student in the three participating classes to plant his or her very own Chestnut at the beginning of the year.
Throughout the year, second and fifth graders were engaged by the South Fork and the Chestnut Foundation, covering a range of topics: from the life cycle of a plant, to how plants get their food, to what makes a Chestnut Tree a vascular plant. When school let out for the summer, 90 thriving seedlings were picked up by dedicated South Fork Volunteer Martha Porter Hall and were taken to “summer camp” at Ace Hardware in Decatur, where South Fork Board Member Tony Powers is a co-owner.
We hope our 90 trees will thrive at Ace Chestnut camp until planting season begins in November. We will plant them on the South Fork alongside their cousins- 1st filial hybrids- by volunteers. We need your help to continue this great work. To volunteer for a Chestnut event, sign up on our events page or email firstname.lastname@example.org