2016-04-28 / Community News

UNE students try to bring back tree species

Through a partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation, University of New England students and faculty are growing and planting American chestnut seedlings this spring. This effort is part of a series of field experiments across Maine to assist in large-scale restoration of the species throughout its former range. The American chestnut (Castenea dentata) is classified as a tree of special concern in Maine due to the effects of a blight fungus accidentally imported to the east coast more than 100 years ago.

Four UNE environmental science students have worked to bring American chestnuts to campus as part of a senior capstone class, a course that provides hands-on learning and project management in which students work together to pool interdisciplinary perspectives to learn and teach each other about sustainability.

In the year 1900, there were more than 4 billion American chestnut trees in the wider region of the Appalachian Mountains, from Maine to Alabama – approximately one of every four trees in the eastern forest. The chestnut blight fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was accidentally introduced from Asia to America at the beginning of the 20th century, and the American chestnut became functionally extinct as a result. The fungus attacks wounds in the bark of a tree, forms cankers and eventually girdles the tree, killing all but the root system.

The American Chestnut Foundation was founded in 1983 and has been working to not only restore the American chestnut to its native range, but to begin the construction of a model for the restoration of other native trees and plants. According to the foundation, the American chestnut was once important in the landscape as a nutritious food for humans and animals and as a source of attractive, light-weight, rot-resistant wood.

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