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In Greenwich, A Future For The American Chestnut Tree

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Davis Dunavin
/
WSHU

A hundred years ago, one in four trees in the eastern United States was an American Chestnut. But, in the early 20th century, the tree was nearly wiped out by one of the first invasive species to hit America. Now, a plot of land in Greenwich, Connecticut is just one of 300 groves from Maine to Georgia where chestnuts are being reintroduced. Dozens of volunteers planted nearly 400 trees here over the weekend.

A hundred years ago, chestnut trees provided food for deer, bears, and wild turkey. Then they were killed by an invasive fungus from Asia. Those who work with trees suspect if we can bring back the chestnut, we could learn how to save other trees.

“There’s a lot of threats to our forest species right now from exotic pests and pathogens," says Kendra Gurney, a coordinator with the American Chestnut Foundation. "And chestnut is the first example of what can happen with that. We lost about 4 billion trees."

Bioengineered replacements could survive the fungus, but bioengineering won’t keep them from being eaten up by rodents and deer.

“They’re kind of like kit-kats for deer," she says.

As she shows a group how to put plastic tubes around the seedlings to keep pests away, she gets a question from 7-year-old Teresa Montana. Teresa’s curious what happens to the trees when they grow up. Gurney says they’ll grow out of their plastic tubes and be able to survive on their own.

Teresa’s eager to learn more.

"I’m really interested in how the earth works," she says. "I have planted a flower before. [But] I’ve never planted a tree."

And the trees Teresa planted will grow fast, Gurney said. In a few years, they should be dropping chestnuts of their own.