BLACK MOUNTAIN, NC-Montreat College Associate Professor Brian Joyce is partnering with the American Chestnut Foundation to help restore the American Chestnut to eastern forests by planting 50 seeds collected from surviving American chestnut trees at Montreat College's Black Mountain campus on Thursday, April 6th at 11am.
Professor Joyce is an associate professor of Environmental Biology and has been at Montreat College for the last ten years. He got involved in the American Chestnut Foundation through his advisor at Penn State, Kim Steiner; a geneticist who is directly involved in the American chestnut restoration effort.
"I am proud to partner with the American Chestnut Foundation," said Professor Joyce. "Their work has great ecological significance, and will return to the mountains a native species that has been missed for nearly half a century."
Early in the 20th Century, the American chestnut was one of the most prevalent trees in the eastern forests, accounting for 1 out of every 4 trees in the region. The tree was one of the most important food sources for a variety of wildlife including bears, deer, and turkey. The annual nut crop was valued by rural communities as a cash crop and to feed livestock. Chestnut wood was also highly valued due to its straight grain, strength, and rot resistance, and was used to make everything from fence posts to barn timbers to musical instruments.
On the Montreat College Campus, most of the wood in the historic Gaither Chapel-pews, beams, balcony, doors-and Gaither Fellowship Hall is American chestnut that was harvested locally.
Early in the 1900's, a fungus from Asia was accidentally introduced into the American forests from infected Chinese chestnut trees. The fungus created a blight that quickly spread throughout the American chestnut's native range. By 1950 nearly all of the mature American Chestnut trees were wiped out.
The American Chestnut tree is a hardy variety whose roots stay alive despite the current blight and it will produce new sprouts, but as the tree matures and the bark splits, the fungus is introduced and its growth is cut off. The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is working to develop a tree that is essentially an American chestnut with the blight resistance of a Chinese chestnut. This is being accomplished through a process of cross-pollination with the Chinese Chestnut.
"Montreat College is looking forward to getting more involved in the next few years in this program," said Joyce. "We eventually hope to devote a larger parcel of land to the growth and development of a blight-resistant strain of American chestnut."
TACF was founded by scientists in 1983 for the purpose of restoring the American chestnut tree to its native range within the woodlands of the eastern United States. It will accomplish its goal using a scientific research and breeding program developed by its founders, and Montreat College is now assisting in the final stages of this blight-resistance breeding program through its first planting of 50 seeds on the Black Mountain campus.
The first phase of the tree planting will take place at 11am on April 6th at the Black Mountain campus of Montreat College.
For more information, please contact Sharon Jehlen, public information officer at 828.669.8012 ext. 3743 or
or contact Brian Joyce, Associate Professor of Environmental Biology at 828.669.8012 ext. 3304 or