Photo of a hybrid American Chestnut tree courtesy of Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences website.

The PA/NJ Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is hosting a series of Zoom webinars this week designed to answer all your questions about the American chestnut. TACF will feature an array of experts on growing, restoring, finding, and farming chestnuts in our region. All these webinars are free and open to the public.

One of the presenters is Hopewell Township’s own Mike Aucott,Ph.D., who will speak at the conference Monday, January 11 from 12pm -1pm on the topic: Bringing back the American chestnut.  Aucott  is a  PA/NJ TACF board member and adjunct professor of chemistry at The College of New Jersey. He also is a member of the Hopewell Township Environmental Commission.

In an email exchange with MercerMe, Aucott explained the importance of American Chestnut trees:

“What happened to them?  The American Chestnut was virtually wiped out by a fungus that came in on trees imported from Asia in the late 1800s; this fungus could be considered the poster child of invasive organisms. It was discovered growing on American trees in 1904 and within 40 years it had wiped out virtually all mature American chestnut trees. The tree survives today, but mainly as sprouts from the root crowns of long-gone trees; once they get old enough for the bark to begin to crack, usually about 10 years or so, the blight gets them, because it survives in the woods on scarlet oaks and perhaps a few other trees and on the scattered chestnut stump sprouts. 

“Why restore them? They were a very important tree to wildlife, because they regularly produced good mast crops, and their leaves were nutritious to developing frogs and amphibians. They were also an important timber tree, producing strong, light, rot-resistant wood.  They were very likely a keystone species in many forest areas. 

“Why should the general public care? It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are all interconnected.  It’s likely that the chestnut, as a former keystone species, if restored could play a role in helping maintain the resiliency of forests in the face of the many threats that forests face today, for example invasive species and climate change.  The health of the forests is important to ecological health, and so it’s ultimately important to our health as well.”

For more information about the series, please click here:

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