Sunday, June 15, 2008

Breeding American Chestnuts for Restoration

It that’s time of year again - time to backcross chestnuts as part of the Department of Forestry’s American chestnut restoration program. At the Department’s Lesesne State Forest in Nelson County foresters bagged flowers on the first- and second-backcross trees we having growing there. The backcross trees were created by making hybrids with the blight resistant Chinese chestnut, and then pollinating the hybrids with pure American pollen. The resulting first-backcrosses were grown and then pollinated with American pollen for the second-backcross. The first-backcrosses are the trees shown in the pictures with bagged flowers.

In the next couple of weeks we will be pollinating these flowers with pollen collected from surviving American tress. The resulting nuts, and trees raised from those nuts, will be chestnuts with roughly 7/8’s or 15/16’s American genes.

The ultimate goal of these efforts is a population of chestnuts with predominantly American characteristics with blight resistance as strong as that of the Chinese chestnut. This population of chestnuts could then be used to restore chestnuts to the Virginia forest landscape.

The backcrossing work is being led by Research Forester Wayne Bowman, with assistance form various volunteers from the Department of Forestry staff. The Department, under Wayne's leadership, is also raising backcross seedlings from the American Chestnut Foundation's Meadowview Farm, and has established backcross plantings at Matthews State Forest near Galax.

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