How do we solve big problems like restoring a native tree that is functionally extinct? We work together. Experts from diverse fields, organizations with shared values, and individuals with a passionate commitment to stewardship roll up their sleeves and make things happen. TACF member and volunteer Dan O’Keefe was witness and instigator of just this sort of collaboration this past July. He captured it in photographs and video for us to share here.
Chapter volunteers established a chestnut orchard at the Tyler Arboretum way back in 1997. It was the first such orchard planted in the state to serve as a germplasm preserve. Today, the orchard holds 136 of the 170 original plantings from seed taken from 20 different locations around the state. In recent years, the volunteers at the Tyler have been seeking to replace trees that died with ones that have more certainty about their pedigree. Each year they manage controlled pollination of the Tyler trees with pollen from known sources like the Ort tree in York county.
That brings us to the Delaware Nature Society (DNS). In 2019, a local hunter reported to Dave Pro, Land Steward at DNS that he had spotted a wild American chestnut (Castanea dentata) on the Coverdale Farm Preserve in Greenville, DE. Dave invited Bill McAvoy, the state botanist, and confirmed that the morphology fit with the native species. Sara Fitzsimmons, Director of Restoration at TACF concurred but recommended going the extra mile. Arrangements were made to send a sample from the Coverdale tree to Virginia Tech for genetic analysis. This is part of a larger effort to genotype 300 plus American chestnuts to answer two questions:
- Are they American and/or introgressed with something else?
- How diverse is American chestnut?
We will have to wait a year or more for the genotype confirmation. In the meantime, TACF accepts the morphological analysis that identifies the Coverdale tree as an American.
Back at the Tyler Arboretum, Dan O’keefe, aware of the Coverdale discovery spoke to Shelby French, the Propagation Manager raising the possibility and challenges of collecting pollen from the Coverdale tree, which stands at over 40′. Shelby mentioned that Mt Cuba Center had a crew of arborists who might be willing to help. Conversations insued and a mutual agreement was reached. It was a good fit for Mt Cuba. Conservation of native plants is their core mission and the Coverdale tree is just a mile up the road.
On July 6th, Bill Trescott, Arboriculture Manager at Mt. Cuba Center, and Mt Cuba Arborists, Scott and Eric Kelley (father and son dynamic arboriculture duo) traveled to the Coverdale Farm to collect catkins from the chestnut tree. I have to mention that Scott and Eric are both following in the footsteps of Scott’s father Clyde who was also an Arborist at Mt Cuba Center.
As you will see in the video below, Eric Kelley eagerly stepped up to perform the aerial work (he is the lightest and most agile of us all – perfect qualities for crawling out on small branches to gather catkins!).
“Having the opportunity to simply stand in the presence of an American Chestnut in the forest was an experience none of us will forget. That we were able to aid in securing the species’ survival by using our aerial skills to collect catkins from the Coverdale tree made it even more meaningful. Conservation and collaboration – what a powerful combination!” __Mt. Cuba Arborist Team