blight resistant chestnut in flower

Open-grown (full sun) American chestnut trees can flower in just three years. Photo by Allen Nichols

“We need people all over NY and in other states to plant pure wild American chestnuts so they have ‘mother trees’ to cross with our blight-resistant tree, when it is approved for release, hopefully in the next few years,” says Allen Nichols, president of the NY Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). This is a continuation of 28-plus years that TACF-NY has been supporting the chestnut restoration work at SUNY ESF.

“I have American chestnut nuts that are starting to sprout,” he says. I send these nuts out free of charge to people that are interested in starting some mother trees, so they have a tree to cross with our blight resistant tree, when it is available.”

Nichols asks that folks read this post and the previous post about chestnut restoration, this document about mother trees and this one about planting your chestnut seeds, and then let him know how many nuts you want to plant! [email protected] or call 607-263-5105

We always recommend planters to start a few extra to distribute to other people that would be interested in helping with the restoration program,” he says. “The first blight resistant seedlings, when available, will be going to the members of the NY chapter of TACF, as we have been supporting the restoration program at SUNY ESF for over 28 years.” (To join TACF-NY, select the NY chapter here. Anyone wanting to support the chestnut restoration work at SUNY-ESF can do so by going to the TACF donation page and selecting the Biotechnology link.)

tap root

The long taproot of American chestnut appears early! Photo by Allen Nichols

The nuts Nichols sends out will be germinating and will need to be planted indoors as soon as possible, and they should be keep in the crisper of your refrigerator until then. See video on how Nichols plants nuts in half-gallon containers. “They develop a long tap root so should be planted in a fairly deep container,” Nichols says (see photo). “They need to be planted indoors and then transplanted after the last frost which is usually after Memorial Day here in NY.”

These nuts are for “mother” trees—not to be planted in the woods, but in the open in full sun so they flower quickly. “A tree planted in the forest may take 30 years to flower and will be so tall that you cannot pollinate it or collect nuts,” Nichols says. If planted in full sun they will flower while still short enough to pollinate and to collect nuts, so that then you will have blight resistant nuts to plant in the forest. Catkins will produce pollen in just three years and burs/nuts in five years are possible.

Nichols explains these seeds are not for big orchards; these are just 2-3 trees/orchard with the orchards spaced 100+ yards apart. “We also recommend planting numerous individual isolated trees so they do not have to be bagged if you are to hand-pollinate them and/or graft a piece of blight resistant material onto them.”

Andy Ennamorato, 9- 2017

TACF-NY Member Andy Ennamorato demonstrates nuts that have formed in just five years after seedling planting. Photo by Allen Nichols

Allen on Reasons for Planting “Mother Trees

#1 Many of the blight-resistant seedlings will be clones therefore will not be able to pollinate each other, therefore we have to cross them with the wild-type “mother trees”.

#2 We want to cross with wild-type trees to get good genetic diversity for the future health of the trees we restore back into the forest.

#3 The mother tree orchards need to be small or consist of isolated trees for several reasons. If you plant more trees close together, that runs the risk that if one gets chestnut blight, it will quickly spread to other trees in the orchard. In addition, if multiple mother trees are close together they will pollinate each other and produce fertile nuts— but they will not be blight resistant. The ideal orchard is just one mother tree and one blight resistant tree, but the initial blight-resistant trees will be very limited in number, so it’s not practical to have a lot of two-tree orchards.

For more info or questions, please contact Allen Nichols at [email protected]