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Kentucky Color: The Adair Tree
By Billy Joe Fudge
During the 1990s, the old American chestnut tree growing on Charles England's farm in the Bull Run watershed of Adair County was introduced to the world, because of its very rare genetic resistance to the blight that killed billions of American chestnut trees across our eastern hardwood forest in the early 20th Century.
Since that time, this tree has been pollinated from trees in nearly a half dozen states and from several other trees in Kentucky, in an effort to tap into its unique blight resistance. Offspring of the tree on Charles England's farm are now growing in research and genetic repositories across the Eastern United States.
Nowadays, its fame has spread far and wide and it has become known as The Adair Tree! Just as "The" has brought the eyes of the American public to bear upon Ohio State University, it is now bringing the eyes of the scientific community and the world to bear upon Adair County, Kentucky.
Last late winter, Mr. Ken Darnell, President of the Kentucky Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation https://acf.org/ky/ contacted me with an amazing request.
According to him, genetic research had progressed to such a point of precision and affordability that the ACF was ready to delve into the genetics of The Adair Tree in an attempt to understand what specific gene or genes are allowing it to survive the attack of the blight.
Darnell asked me to collect scion material (3 or 4 inch long tips of twigs) that would be grafted onto the rootstock of other plants. They were to be sent to Sara Fitzsimmons at Penn State University. Broadly speaking, Sara is a scientist working in the field of genetics. She is Director of Restoration, North Central Regional Science Coordinator, and Regional Science Coordinator Supervisor for the American Chestnut Foundation.
So, Ricky Parnell, with the Kentucky Division of Forestry, along with Jackie Goodin, with KDF, Kenny Pyles, who is a KDF retiree, and I collected over 20 scions which I packed in ice and overnighted to Sara. Sara now reports that 6 of 10 of The Adair Tree scions are growing in their greenhouse. She has shipped some of The Adair Tree scions to the Meadowview Research Farm in Meadowview Virginia and to another grafter in Florida.
I am not a scientist, so I asked Sara to explain the situation and the process to me and I will share that information with you.
Sara Fitzsimmons said,
"This season, TACF and affiliated scientists are working to clone and preserve pollen from a handful of wild American chestnut trees which have been observed to contain genetic resistance to the chestnut blight fungus. Out of an estimated 4 billion American chestnut trees which once populated the Appalachian Mountains in the late 1800s, only 24 trees have been identified to be what scientists call 'Large, Surviving American chestnuts' or LSAs. The 'S' for surviving doesn't just mean that they are alive, but that they are 'surviving with chestnut blight infection'. There are a few thousand 'large American chestnuts', but they tend to be 'Lucky' instead of 'Surviving'. Once those Large Lucky American chestnut trees get hit with the blight, they tend to succumb in as little as 1-5 years whereas the Large Surviving American chestnuts are documented to have survived multiple decades with chestnut blight infection.Sara says she has visited the Amherst tree in Virginia and the Ort tree in Pennsylvania and is planning a trip to see The Adair Tree and fulfill a long time goal of visiting another point of interest in Kentucky, Mammoth Cave!
This story was posted on 2022-05-28 09:21:50
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