Young Explorers Find an American Chestnut Tree

Last Thursday night, the Young Explorers Club met at the Grayson County Public Library to plan and prepare for their Saturday Field Trip. The plan was to find an American Chestnut Tree in the wild, a rarity. They made leaf presses and learned about the American Chestnut Tree.  

Using the learning box donated by the American Chestnut Foundation, the members learned about some of the history of the American Chestnut Tree and how the blight nearly eradicated this mighty tree in a very short period of time. They examined the leaves and burrs of the American Chestnut Tree and compared them to the Chinese Chestnut, Japanese Chestnut and the Chinquapin. They also read about the chestnut blight and viewed samples of bark damaged by this fungus. 

Saturday morning, the club headed out in search of this incredible tree. Samples of the leaf were studied during the car ride to the destination. Having an idea where to find one, they began their quest.  

Very shortly after setting out, one of our youngest members brought to our attention, the first possible American Chestnut leaf. Everyone circled to investigate and determine whether we had found a tree. The leaf was a great match but they were uncertain as the tree from which it came was very small, basically a sapling. They placed the leaf in their presses for further review later. With no other identifying features such as a burr, they moved on.

Traveling along the trail for over an hour, the group was becoming disheartened as the chances of finding the tree seemed slim. They were looking along the trail for signs of burrs and up in the canopy for correctly shaped leaves. Finally, a member pointed up to a tree and asked if that could be it? It was fairly tall so binoculars were used to get a better look at the leaves. It appeared to be a match! Next they traveled down to the tree and looked for other identifying features such as burrs. Burrs were found and it was decided that they had found an American Chestnut Tree. Everyone was very excited! They collected some leaves, placing them in their presses, and some burrs.  

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With goals accomplished and spirits lifted, they headed back. Explorations continued as wildflowers, butterflies, large trees and mushrooms were added to the findings of the day. Once back at the trailhead, everyone sat together and enjoyed lunch while writing in their journals. 

Into the vehicle they went for the second half of the trip, to visit the American Chestnut Foundation's Glenn C. Price Research Farm in Meadowview, VA. This facility does extensive research on the American Chestnut Tree and Chestnut blight. Several strains of the fungus are grown in the lab for use in their research as well as the plantings that take place in the fields. The Chinese Chestnut Tree is blight resistant so researchers are backcrossing the American and Chinese Chestnut Trees trying to get a blight resistant American Chestnut Tree with the physical characteristics of the American Chestnut Tree. This is a long and tedious process of collecting and planting nuts, as well as inoculating, measuring, and culling trees. Extensive work is being done to bring back this amazing tree.

The American Chestnut Foundation was having a Chestnut Celebration! The group enjoyed foods made from chestnuts such as cookies, brownies and hummus, fresh made apple cider, crafts and music. Drawings were held for door prizes and raffle items and three of our members won prizes! A hayride through the Chestnut Orchards to view the trees used for their research ended the afternoon. 

Everyone had a great time searching out the extremely rare American Chestnut Tree and celebrating its successes. It is a remarkable tree that was once so plentiful in our forests. They left with the hopes that they will one day see it flourish again in our Blue Ridge Mountains.