Cumberland Times-News

April 24, 2014

Researchers studying Western Md. growth of American chestnut tree

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— FROSTBURG — If you ever wanted to own an American chestnut tree — purebred, no hybrids here — or had a hankering to be a citizen scientist, your opportunity will take place at the Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg on May 3.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., researchers Cat Stylinski, Katia Engelhardt and Steve Keller will be giving away 500 of the young trees, which have been nursed for a year in the lab’s greenhouse.

The lab, which is part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, is reached by leaving Interstate 68 at Exit 33 and driving a couple hundred yards on Braddock Road toward Frostburg. The lab is on the left.

This is the second spring that the researchers have given away American chestnut trees. If additional funding can be obtained, the program will extend into future years, according to Stylinski.

“We are trying to discover how well the American chestnut will grow in Western Maryland. We also want to involve citizens in science, to advance restoration and to research the genetics of the trees,” Stylinski said.

Citizen scientists who accepted trees a year ago were asked to report online twice during those 12 months with information about growth, timing of leaf development and loss and other physical parameters.

Ninety-one of the 534 trees planted at 128 locations died, either from elemental conditions or being eaten by animals.

Of the survivors, the average growth was 4 inches with one tree shooting up 14 inches.

All of the observations are available online at http://chestnut.fieldscope.org. Another online presence is www.facebook.com/ restorechestnuts.

Keller said that when a tree is put into the ground there is transplant shock. “It realizes it isn’t in the cozy greenhouse anymore,” he said.

Last year’s trees were placed in a variety of sites, the most common being mowed lawns.

The formal name of the effort is Citizens Restoring American Chestnuts.

Engelhardt said the project website allows citizens to watch the research unfold rather than wait a year to read a paper published by a scientist.

Existing tree planters are predominantly male, according to Stylinski. They are mostly ages 50-60 with an interest in science and are fairly well-educated, middle-class people.

The trees already in the ground should grow as much as a foot during their second year, according to the researchers. None have contracted chestnut blight at this point.

“They are too young,” Engelhardt said.

Stylinski anticipates that the trees in the CRAC project will be blighted in five to 15 years.

No fertilizer is used when the trees are planted and they are not watered so that researchers can determine how they respond to natural settings.

A utilitarian tree used for many purposes, the American chestnut ranged from Maine to Florida and west to Ohio until a blight nearly eliminated it early in the 1900s. The seeds used by the lab come from eight sources.

The researchers may be contacted at chestnut@al.umces.edu or 301-689-7134.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.