Seeds of Hope: American Chestnut Replanting

by Catherine Howell

As the late afternoon light began to fade and frigid air penetrated gloved hands, the last of the Arlington replanted American Chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) was patted into place on a slope in Glencarlyn Park on a gray day in mid-December, 2013. There, with some serious luck, it could grow into a sturdy tree with viable fruit and possibly help reverse the bad fortune of the iconic American Chestnut––once one of the most common tree species in the northeastern United States, but now largely decimated due to a virulent fungus.

Vincent and Jerry backfill the last hole of the day on a slope in Glencarlyn Park while County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas tamps down the soil.

Arlington County Forester Vincent Verweij and ARMN volunteer Jerry Cowden backfill the last hole of the day on a slope in Glencarlyn Park, while County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas tamps down the soil.

Chestnut Blight Fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America through Japanese or Chinese Chestnuts; those species co-evolved with the fungus and are not affected by it. American Chestnuts, however, soon succumbed to the novel pathogen. More than three billion native chestnuts perished, removing a species that was a valuable source of timber and a prolific native producer of fall mast for wildlife.

American Chestnuts survive locally in a very limited fashion. Most grow as shoots from stumps of decimated trees and rarely reach 20 feet in height. December’s replanting project involved the distribution of a hundred saplings grown at the Earth Sangha nursery from viable seeds collected mainly in the northern Blue Ridge. Unlike the hybrid trees that are bred from American and Chinese Chestnuts (with an effort to back breed the American species’ characteristics while maintaining blight resistance), these saplings represent true American Chestnuts. Continue reading

Gulf Branch Welcomes Mr., errr…Ms. Owl

By Catherine Howell

Can you spot Ms. Barred Owl?
Photo by David Howell.

The guest of honor didn’t have much to say, but that didn’t bother any of the Friends of Gulf Branch Nature Center who came out on the evening of March 10 to celebrate ”Mr.” Owl and the handsome house the barred owl occupies on the center’s upper terrace.  The ecologically friendly wood-and-mesh Owl House, built with private donations, hugs a gentle slope and is just the right size for a growing juvenile Strix varia.

Dozens of GBNC enthusiasts visited with the newcomer, who came to the nature center following the unexpected demise of Gulf Branch’s previous resident barred owl last year.

Mr. Owl, it turned out, was honored under somewhat false pretenses.  Continue reading