Rare tree being used as surrogate parent

July 02, 2006

The Maryland chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation and the Columbia Association worked together Monday to pollinate a large American chestnut tree on Harper's Farm Road.

"It's a very big, old American chestnut," said Essie Burnworth, president of the Maryland chapter and secretary of the national organization. "It has blight, but it's still blooming and able to bear nuts."

The tree stands in a wooded area, Burnworth said, but Larry and Gwen Peters, former Columbia residents and longtime members of the foundation, noticed a few branches in bloom and notified Gary Carver, chairman of the chapter's American chestnut locator committee. The blooming branches hang over Harper's Farm Road, where they have access to sun, Burnworth said.

A portion of the road was blocked off June 14, and a lift, provided by the Columbia Association, was used to get to 163 of the tree's flowers. The flowers were bagged to prevent natural pollination from other chestnuts.

On Monday, pollen from blight-resistant trees at the foundation's Meadowview Research Farm in Virginia was brushed on the flowers. The bags were replaced and will remain on the flowers until the nuts are harvested in the fall.

The tree is intended to serve as a mother tree in the foundation's effort to restore American chestnuts, which were decimated by a fungus imported on Asian chestnut trees in the late 1800s, Burnworth said.

"[The fungus] was first discovered at the Bronx Zoo in 1904, and moved about 20 miles a year. So by the 1950s, the estimate is that 4 billion trees were dead," Burnworth said. "The American chestnut is like redwood. It doesn't rot, so even through the trees died they just stood there. They continued to be harvested through the 1900s, even though they were like ghosts standing in the forests."

In the 1800s, the trees were very valuable, Burnworth said. "When they were so prevalent, the chestnuts were the economic engine for everything. These trees grew straight up with no branches for 40 or 50 feet. At the time, they built houses and floors and barns and everything out of chestnut," she said. "When they went, it changed the understory, the habitat, the balance of all the wildlife, because the turkeys, grouse and all the woodland birds lived on the nuts."

If the controlled pollination is successful, the nuts will be planted in protected orchards.

Fay Lande


NCO honored -- Army Staff Sgt. Estefan Nastvogel, son of Fred J. and Debra A. Carr of Hickory Ridge, has been named winner of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) Noncommissioned Officer of the Year for 2006. His regiment is based at Fort Campbell, Ky. A signals intelligence analyst, Nastvogel has served in the military for four years. He is a 2001 graduate of Hammond High School.

Around town

Traditional Fourth -- The 36th Longfellow Friends of the Traditional Fourth parade and ballgame will be held Tuesday. There are no entry forms, requirements, registration or fees. Free beer, soft drinks and peanuts will be offered after the parade and at the game. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. at Longfellow Elementary School, 5470 Hesperus Drive. Line-up begins at 9:30 a.m. The route is 1.8 miles long and the parade lasts about an hour. About noon, beer tasting will begin behind Harper's Choice Village Center, where the softball game between the Eliots Oak Nuts and the Hesperus Wrecks will be played. Bob Russell, 410-730-4024.

Classes -- Salima Aza is offering weekly belly-dancing lessons at Slayton House in Wilde Lake Village Center. The classes, sponsored by Wilde Lake Community Association, will be held from Tuesdays, through Aug. 15 (no class July 4). A class for beginners ages 14 and older meets from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays. The cost is $63 for seven weeks. Columbia residents receive a 10 percent discount. Registration is required in advance.

Fencing classes for those ages 7 and older will continue at Slayton House. Classes are to begin the week of July 10. The cost is $48. Equipment is provided, but students must purchase protective equipment; the cost is $15 for men, $20 for women. Registration is required, and Columbia lien payers can request a 10 percent discount. 410-730-3987.

Tap classes -- Judy Templeton will offer six-week classes in tap dancing, starting July 10, at Slayton House on Wilde Lake Village Green. A class for intermediate dancers will be held at 4 p.m. and for beginners at 5 p.m. The cost is $90. 410-772-9448.

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