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An old chestnut: Bringing back a forest staple
On a small farm in Peterborough, students and tree lovers are bringing the nearly extinct American chestnut back to New Hampshire. If they and others like them succeed, our grandchildren could see forests similar to those our grandparents knew.
The American chestnut once covered about a quarter of Eastern forests, scientists estimate. But an Asian blight nearly wiped the tree out.
Robert Frost wrote about the blight, “Will the blight end the chestnut? The farmers rather guess not/It keeps smoldering at the roots/And sending up new shoots/Till another parasite/Shall come to end the blight.”
He was wrong. By 1950 only a few American chestnuts survived. Since then, some dedicated fans of the old tree have sought ways to bring it back. They may have found the solution: breeding it with an Asian variety that is resistant to the blight.
At Otter Brook Farm in Peterborough, members of the American Chestnut Foundation teach schoolchildren how to plant and nurture the new American chestnuts. The intention is to replant them in the wild and restore the tree whose nuts fed Thoreau at Walden Pond, whose beauty inspired early American artists, and whose wood provided furniture, tools and shelter.
We wish them the best of luck.
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