Long Distance Romance: CT Mother Trees Find Mail Order Grooms

By Gayle Kida

CT-TACF pollinators have once again helped a number of American chestnut trees find attractive mates, but success came only after some disappointments. We received sad news that the Larkin tree and a new tree in Tolland had both died back from blight, and the New Hartford tree was still shy about flowering. Other potential “mother trees” had been reported by the public to our chapter, so in June Jim Gage and other board members volunteered to collect information about them. Two trees in Glastonbury plus trees in Bolton, Willington, Middletown, Cromwell, Granby and Farmington were visited to see if they were truly blooming American chestnuts. TACF confirms leaf and twig samples show microscopic evidence of pure American genes before trees will bear nuts for our backcross breeding program. Although most were flowering, unfortunately these trees were found not to be American chestnut or not native to Connecticut. However, we are happy to report chestnuts in Canaan, Burlington and Old Lyme passed their leaf and twig exams and joined four trees identified or worked with last year: Salem, Rocky Hill, Tolland and Union. Now that we had selected the mother trees, the call went out to TACF's scientists at Meadowview for prospective fathers. Each Connecticut tree was matched with a beau from the Virginia research farms, chosen not only for American character but also ability to pass on top-of-the-class achievement in blight resistance. Nuts produced from this matchmaking will contain on average about ninety-seven percent American genes, inheriting from their mothers traits best suited for success in Connecticut's forests.

Pollen from the “fathers-to-be” was sent overnight by FedEx to our CT Chapter pollinators. TACF's New England Science Coordinator Leila Pinchot; CT Chapter Tree Breeding Coordinator Gayle Kida, and Board Member David Bingham volunteered to coordinate work with the Connecticut trees. First, we had to keep a close eye on the flowers to time when bags should be put on to protect the female flowers. Bagging began on June 19 (slightly earlier than last year), and pollinations took place July 2nd through the 10th.

Meet our 2007 Mother trees:

Burlington: Located on a dead end street at the edge of Nassahegan State Forest, this is the largest of many (assumed) American sprouts and saplings in the treebelt. The stem we pollinated in the blighted cluster is seven inches diameter at breast height and reaches about thirty feet tall. Chestnut enthusiast Mr. Leo Hein reported this tree to our booth at the CT Flower Show back in February, mentioning that it had produced burs the last two years. Gayle coordinated the operation with Mike DeSanto at Bartlett Tree Experts' Simsbury office, who schedules the bucket trucks. Arborist Alan Grandy wished to perform the bagging and controlled pollination after learning about our efforts last year.

Canaan: Gayle also timed the pollination of this impressively large tree, more than seventy feet tall with a diameter of fourteen inches at breast height. Charlie White from Bartlett brought a bucket truck with a sixty-foot arm but found the highest flowering tips were well above his head. Some branches were snagged and pulled lower with a pole to allow access to the female flowers. This tree has been cared for by Mr. Ed Emmons for nearly fifty years in cooperation with his neighbor; the tree is on the border between their two properties. Like most large American trees, blight infection has entered the trunk. Gayle was advised by TACF staff to apply a mudpack to help the tree contain the spread of disease underneath its bark. Charlie assisted with putting the mud around the uppermost canker, and CT board member Woods Sinclair and wife Mary Lu worked with Gayle to apply mud to the lower trunk.

Salem: The Salem mother tree has produced fifty seedlings now growing in David Bingham's orchard. David took on the challenge of re-pollination to produce more offspring from this line, to increase the odds a sufficient number can be selected for blight-resistance and American traits. Pollen was sent from the same father tree at Meadowview; all seedlings from both years will be siblings. Read more details about how lab work done by Leila has helped keep this mother tree alive in David Bingham's web article “News from Salem and Old Lyme.”

Old Lyme: Many visitors to the Old Lyme Library must be wondering why did all those bags suddenly appear on their tree? Answer: David has been hard at work in Old Lyme too! David wishes to thank volunteer Jack Ostroff who helped with the bagging, and Peter Edmondson of SavATree who loaned an orchard ladder for the bagging and pollination. The ladder proved essential for reaching flowers 20-25 feet up. This multi-trunked tree has a connection to the earliest years of the Connecticut Chapter of TACF. Though planted at the library many years ago, its origins as native CT with American genes are well documented. See David's article to find out more about the people and places in the history of this tree.

Rocky Hill: Leila reports that Dr. Sandra Anagnostakis, of the CT Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), has graciously permitted CT-TACF once again to pollinate American chestnuts at Lockwood Farms in Hamden. This year we are pollinating several related chestnuts whose parents were located in Rocky Hill, CT. On June 19th and 20th, Leila put 90 bags on the trees and came back on the 27th to pollinate the flowers. Leila returned on July 2nd to pollinate about half of them again. Pollinating the trees twice, though time consuming, will increase the number of nuts we harvest in September.

Union: Leila also wrote that Yale School of Forestry has offered the use of several chestnut trees growing in the Yale-Myers Forest in Union for CT-TACF's breeding program. This year Leila and a group of volunteers are pollinating a tree known as the “Nickity-poo” tree, as it is growing in the Nickity-poo clear-cut. The tree was discovered by the school's summer crew, while they were harvesting the surrounding trees. The students knew well enough to save this tree. Because the tree has several nasty cankers, a mudpack was applied at the time of pollination to try to slow the growth of the blight.

Tolland: The pollination of this tree by Leila was featured in a recent article titled “Blight Fight” in the Lifestyle section of The Hartford Courant, reported by Steve Grant. If you somehow missed seeing this excellent informative account of Leila's work in connection with TACF and CAES, please check out the link to the article on this website.

In addition to backcross breeding activities, Leila and Gayle also performed pollinations to produce control nuts from trees at CAES and Kuras Farms in West Suffield. Gayle would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Kuras allowing her access to their nearly sixty year old Chinese trees for a second year. Nuts collected from both locations will be planted with this year's new lines. They will serve as comparisons to help judge the blight resistance of the backcross seedlings about five years from now.

CT-TACF also wishes to thank Bartlett Tree Experts for donating a bucket truck and the services of two skilled arborists. We are looking forward to late September/early October for news confirming that all chestnut “couples” were compatible and have produced new families!

The Canaan tree, nearly fifty years old, was bagged on June 22nd. Photographer Gayle Kida [click on photo to see larger version]

Another view of Canaan, Charlie White from Bartlett's Simsbury office is bagging sixty feet up. Photographer Gayle Kida [click on photo to see larger version]

Bartlett arborist Alan Grandy pollinated the Burlington tree on July 5th. Photographer Gayle Kida [click on photo to see larger version]

Burlington flowers at pollination, an unbagged sample tip. Photographer Gayle Kida [click on photo to see larger version]

Different color ribbons mark two types of American pollen used on a Kuras Farms Chinese Tree. The controlled pollination will produce F1 seeds (half Chinese and half American). Photographer Gayle Kida [click on photo to see larger version]

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Bill Adamsen

Bill Adamsen

Bill Adamsen is a member of the CT Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) Board of Directors. He served as Chapter President for eight years.

Bill Adamsen

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