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Chestnuts for a roasting planet

June 16th, 2009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

As summer sets in, many of us are looking to shade those windows any way we can, and one of the greenest solutions is to add greenery. Outside the window, that is.

A shade tree can mitigate the heat gain on a west or south-facing window and truly cut down on electricity costs. The trouble is — it takes a few years to maximize its effect. Even if you plant a big tree, it will be a while before it’s settled in and leafing out.

Which brings us to a project at Purdue University. Scientists there have been studying a new hybrid species of the American chestnut, a tree that can grow much faster and larger than other hardwood varieties. They think it could be a good bet to shade your windows, built new forests that could be sustainably harvested and in the process sequester a whole lot of carbon more efficiently than many other trees could.

They’ve compared the American chestnut to quaking aspen, red pine and white pine and found that the chestnut grew faster and had three times more biomass than the other species. It also sequestered more carbon than the other trees, except when compared with a black walnut in one study location.

“Each tree has about the same percentage of its biomass made up of carbon, but the fact that the American chestnut grows faster and larger means it stores more carbon in a shorter amount of time,” said Douglas Jacobs, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue.

As a bonus, much of that carbon could be retained when the chestnuts are converted into wood products, he noted.

Many years ago, the original (non-hybrid) American chestnut was used for fine furniture because it is a dense hardwood. However, beginning in the early 1900s, it experienced a blight caused by a fungus that spread across it’s natural U.S. territory from New England, across New York and south to Alabama. Fifty years later, the tree was nearly gone, according to a report on the Purdue project in Science Daily.

But arborists are creating a hybrid American chestnut through interbreeding with the blight-resistant Chinese chesnut that results in a tree that’s “94 percent American chestnut,” according to the report.

The catch: That hybrid tree will be available sometime in the next decade.

“We’re really quite close to having a blight-resistant hybrid that can be reintroduced into eastern forests,” Jacobs said. “But because American chestnut has been absent from our forests for so long now, we really don’t know much about the species at all.”

Actually, there is a group of chestnut enthusiasts who know as much as there is to know and are collaborating to bring the native American tree back to its Appalachian roots. Intrigued? Visit the American Chesnut Foundation. They’re still promising a blight-resistant American chestnut that will be forest-ready before the end of the decade.

Are they jus-nuts? It doesn’t appear so. Not only are they pushing the research on the blight-resistant variety, they provide people with traditional American chestnut seeds and seedlings (if you live east of the Mississippi — they don’t want to spread any potential blight westward). Order on the site to get your personal forest underway.

The Purdue research is being funded by The Stry Foundation, Electric Power Research Institute and Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center.

(Photo credits: Chesnut, The American Chesnut Foundation; Researcher with seedling, Purdue University/Nicole Jacobs.)

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media



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