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Jul 12, 2021

The (Darling 58) Chestnut Tree: Bringing Back an American Icon with William Powell and Rex Mann (video)

Using revolutionary technology, the American Chestnut Research & Restoration Project aims to resuscitate the Castanea dentata.

By Templeton Staff

In 1904, a fungus was introduced to North America and it had a devastating impact on one of the continent's foundation trees—the American Chestnut tree. Within only 50 years, the American Chestnut was rendered functionally extinct. Before this tragedy, one out of every four trees in the eastern part of the United States was an American Chestnut. These trees, nearly 3 billion of them,  played a crucial role in the development of the country. Native Americans and early settlers relied on the chestnuts for food for their communities and livestock. The lumber from these trees was used to build everything from cradles to caskets.

Efforts to restore this tree are being made by William A. Powell, SUNY professor and director of the American Chestnut Research & Restoration Program, and Rex Mann from the American Chestnut Foundation. Supported by funding from Templeton World Charity Foundation, this unique project is seeking to genetically engineer a blight-resistant form of the American Chestnut tree and restart its dominance in the forests that it once called home.

Highlights from this installment of the award-winning “Stories of Impact” video series: 

  • Before the extinction of the American Chestnut tree, rural mountain communities would gather surplus chestnuts from the surrounding woods and deliver them to the general stores in town. This bounty would be used to trade for items that they could not otherwise procure.
  • The American Chestnut tree could reach 100 feet in height and in some cases, the trunks would reach nearly 10 feet in diameter. The lumber was prized for its straight grain and resistance to rot.
  • Scientists are confident that techniques similar to those that are being used to restore the American Chestnut could be employed to save other types of trees that are on the verge of extinction.

Learn more about the TWCF-funded research project related to this episode.

Read the transcript from the full interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay. Featuring: William A. Powell, professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science in Forestry and the Director of the American Chestnut Research & Restoration Program; Rex Mann, retired U.S. Forest Service Officer now working for gratis for the American Chestnut Foundation.

Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research.