The Story of the Kelley Tree

by Sara Fitzsimmons, Director of Restoration TACF

In June, long-time member Tracey Coulter worked with her friend and colleague Ellen Roane to track down the status of the Kelley tree in Camp Hill, PA. Along with the Ort and Joliet trees, the Kelley tree was one of the first trees used in the Pa Chapters breeding program. Several of the progeny from this tree continue the lineage both in the PA/NJ Chapter breeding program, as well as in Maryland.

The owner of the tree, Mrs. Eleanor Kelley, had passed away in 2016 , and we lost contact with the tree and its new owner. Ellen took a walk to find out how the tree was doing, and met Janet Kelley, Eleanor’s daughter, who proudly cares for her mother’s American chestnut tree. Ellen will be collecting small leaves this month from the Kelley tree to include it in TACFs landscape genomics program.In 2003, Dave Armstrong pollinated the Kelley tree with pollen from a large surviving American chestnut in Virginia called the Amherst tree. Then, in 2004, he established the Kelley x Amherst (KxA) orchard in Codorus State Park. With both the Kelley tree and the Amherst tree having some moderate amount of blight-resistance, the resulting progeny have improved resistance, about that equal to half that of a Chinese chestnut.

For almost 10 years, Dave distributed seeds form the KxA orchard to many members of the Pa/NJ Chapter and beyond. Chapter member and volunteer Jay Brenneman will carry on the work Dave started at Codorus State Park, and we look forward to continued distributions from this location.

Making Connections

“I moved to Camp Hill in 1995 and while exploring the neighborhood, I saw a catkin-laden chestnut in a backyard.  Several years later, I talked about chestnut restoration for my “final presentation” on the way to becoming a Master Gardener. Apparently, Cumberland County Extension made note of that and when Mrs. Kelley called the office to invite them to visit her tree, the call was passed on to me. It was the very same tree that I had spied in 1995! You never know how these connections can be made!  Eleanor Kelly was a wonderful woman, with a grand sense of humor. On one occasion, when Dave Armstrong and I were pollinating the tree, George Weigel, gardening columnist with the Patriot News joined us. He then wrote an article about Eleanor’s tree and the effort to restore the American Chestnut.  Mrs. Kelley, standing straight with her trusty cane, supervised the operation.  She was an avid gardener, and when I stared intently at the purple loosestrife in her garden she said,” I know, but it’s so beautiful”. As was she”.

Tracey Coulter | Agroforestry Coordinator
Bureau of Forestry | Rural and Community Forestry Section

To read an early account of the tree:

Old Chestnut Tree Fights Blight; Patriot-News, Harrisburg_PA,July_18_1999, pH01

Update: Orchard at Penn State

May 9th brought an unusual day of snow squals and temperatures in the upper 20’s damaging tender buds and causing confusion in the plant world. While the chestnuts in the arboretum orchards suffered some freeze damage the trees have recovered as of late June. The more mature trees have male catkins present and the female flowers are visible. A few more weeks and chestnut pollen will be on the breeze.

In years past, this time of year is a flurry of activity, planting seedlings, mowing to try and stay ahead of the grass, inoculating trees, and closely watching flower development in preparation for pollination work. We are very busy this year as well. Over 700 young chestnut trees have been inoculated in the Arboretum orchards at Penn State and 2,400 more have been inoculated using the small stem assay (SSA) method in the shadehouse.

The oldest SSAs are 3 weeks old and the effects can be seen as some of the more susceptible seedlings have died from the inoculation. Over the summer up to 50% of the inoculated B3F2 seedlings should succumb to the inoculations. The remainder B3F2s will be planted in the arboretum in fall of 2020 and spring 2021.

More grafts have been made, and a lot has been learned on what works, what doesn’t, and where we can improve. Dr. Hill Craddock from University of Tennessee, Chattanooga gave a grafting tutorial to some TACF staff which should improve the success moving forward. In preparation for next grafting season hundreds of chestnut seedlings have been planted for use as root stock. The successful grafts will be kept in the shadehouse on campus this year before being planted in a portion of the chestnut orchards in the Arboretum @ Penn State.

Seeking Volunteers for Workday at Codorus State Park F2 Orchard

2016 Intern Marlin Graham helping with inoculations at PSU Chestnut Orchard

NEEDED: 6 – 10 volunteers to join us for inoculations at the Codorus State Park F2 orchard

WHEN: Friday, July 10th 

WHERE: Cordorus State Park in Southern York County, Pennsylvania

 Codorus State Park Orchards Map 2019  We will park at the parking area labeled in this map, then walk approximately 0.25 (1/4) miles uphill to the orchard location.

CONTACT: Sara Fitzsimmons: e-mail:  sff3@psu.edu

Description of Work:

You are welcome to join us for most or part of the day to assist with inoculations. You do not have to be available the entire time if you can’t do it. Even just a couple of hours will help.

We hope to have 2 teams of 4-5 people each. The individual tasks include:

    1. Optional: Data recorder and tree marker – outlining where the holes will be / are made
    2. Spraying a tree with 70% alcohol then punching 2 holes in the stem of the tree
    3. Putting a weak strain of blight fungus into the upper hole
    4. Putting a strong strain of blight fungus in to the lower hole
    5. QA/QC – Taping the inoculum-filled holes with masking tape and ensuring the process was completed appropriately.

Physical Requirements: Because we will be working within the bottom 3 feet of the trees, be aware that most of these jobs require squats, bending over, deep-knee bends, walking on knees, and/or skootching on bottoms. There are approximately 300 trees to inoculate, so if we can have 2 teams, each team will have about 150 trees to complete.

COVID Precautions: In light of the ongoing pandemic, and although we will be outside, we will work to ensure everyone is staying more than 6’ apart while also encouraging the use of masks. The trees are planted 3’ apart, so we will be sure everyone keeps 2 trees between them and the next person to ensure proper spatial distancing while working.

For more information on the inoculating process, here is a link to an artcle from the TACF Chestnut Journal, Summer 2015_Inoculation.

If you think you can help out, please let me know and I’ll put together a mailing list for everyone to keep on touch about the day’s activities.

Thank You!

Sara Fern Fitzsimmons, Director of Restoration – TACF®

On the trail for American chestnuts in Pennsylvania!

Report a tree

TACF is on the hunt for new sources of wild American chestnut. If you want to help us map these living trees for our restoration work please check out our Report a Tree page.

If you would like to invite our representative to talk about this initiative please email Jean Najjar at mail@patacf.org

Reports of historical sites are welcome too!

Recently, we received an email with photos and a story about American chestnut snag at Cook Forest State Park. Many thanks to Jacqueline Goslin for sharing these images and her interest in the American chestnut.

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Goslin

The plaque reads: This snag or dead tree, has been standing since it was killed by the chestnut blight that moved through Pennsylvania, by the early 1920’s. The wood of this tree was very rot resistant and prized in the early lumber industry. It was used to build just about anything from tool handles to houses. The Civilian Conservation Corps CCC, salvaged some of these dead chestnut trees to build many of the park’s cabins, shelters, and the Log Cabin Inn Environmental Learning Classroom from 1933-1937.

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Goslin

Wildlife, such as turkey, bear, deer, and squirrels depended on this tree for food. It was a very fast-growing tree. Many trees that were felled in the logging era (1820-1920) averaged six feet in diameter. The largest chestnut tree ever recorded before felling was 54 feet in circumference, which makes it about 18 feet across.

Learn more about the history of Cook Forest State Park.