February 20, 2013 8:32:26 AM
VERONA -- North Mississippi Research and Extension Center forestry specialist John Kushla says he's excited to be documenting four cross-bred chestnut tree seeds donated by master gardener Reginald Rose.
American chestnut trees were once common in the northeast, but an airborne fungus that arrived in the early 1900s on Asian nursery stock had killed an estimated 3.5 billion by 1940.
"I think this is kind of exciting," Kushla told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. "I went through forestry school, but never got to see an actual chestnut tree. They were already gone. Occasionally we'd see a stump or the occasional sprout."
Now he will document what happens to the seeds, which cost Rose $75 each and were planted Feb. 8 at the center in Verona.
Rose is a member of the American Chestnut Foundation, which has been working since 1989 to cross Chinese-American hybrids resistant to the blight with American chestnuts. The idea was to produce a tree that was more American with each generation but still resistant to blight.
"We had to tell them where we were going to plant them, we had to agree to take pictures every year and annually report the condition of the trees," Rose said. "This is really a scientific experiment."
Kushla told Rose not to get his hopes too high.
"He said to count on one seed for the birds, one will die and maybe the other two will make it," Rose said. "But I'm hopeful. Every generation of seeds is a little bit better, a little more resistant to blight."
At 72, Rose said he knows he won't be around to see the trees get very big, if they grow at all.
"I'll never see them to fruition, but maybe my grandchildren will," he said.