Galax Middle School Studies Leaves, Invasive Plants and the American Chestnut

Friday, October 14th, students from Galax Middle School traveled to Matthews State Forest to learn about the forests of the Blue Ridge. We met with Zach Olinger, a Forester with the MSF, and began an enlightening afternoon hiking around Matthews State Forest.  

We first began our educational tour with leaf identification. Mr. Olinger discussed the native trees of the area and then guided us to some of these trees around the property. The students also received information about non-native ornamental tress brought in from other countries. There are a large number of heirloom apple trees on the property and they delighted us with a tasty treat!

The second phase of the hike revolved around invasive plants. In a small wooded area near the pond, Mr. Olinger handed each of the students a picture of a non-native invasive plant species. The scavenger hunt began as students were sent out to see if they could find any of these plants. Unfortunately, in a very small area, 7 invasive species were discovered by the students. 

Finally, we reached the American Chestnut grove. Here, students learned of the research being conducted on the reestablishment of the American Chestnut tree. Matthews State Forest is the site of one of many orchards with fourth generation American Chestnut trees. Students learned about backcrossing to create a genetically blight resistant American Chestnut tree. They examined the differences between the Chinese Chestnut and the American Chestnut tree based on this backcrossing using their leaves and tree structure as examples.