Once a ubiquitous presence in North America’s eastern forests, the American chestnut tree was nearly brought to extinction by a deadly blight, but it was brought back from oblivion through the ingenuity of determined scientists.
In 1904, forester Hermann Merkel discovered ugly wounds on some of the American chestnut trees in the New York Zoological Park. No other trees in the park were affected. By 1911, only two of 1,500 trees in the park remained. A scientist with the New York Botanical Garden identified the disease as a blight fungus. All attempts to find a remedy failed. A U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist discovered that the blight originated in Asia, brought to the United States through the cross-breeding of the American and Asian chestnuts. By 1940, nearly 4 billion trees succumbed to the devastating blight. Using clear, accessible language, Walker explains how research scientists have developed three promising approaches to restoring the American chestnut: backcross breeding, using weak strains of virus-infected fungus to attack lethal strains, and engineering transgenic American chestnut trees. These approaches are cause for cautious optimism for restoration of the trees, which Walker describes as a “gargantuan task,” requiring “time and patience.” Walker’s passion for her subject and her ability to convincingly explain how the American chestnut is an icon worth saving makes this stand out.
A compelling, inspiring true story of a species rescued from extinction through decades of determined innovation. (photos, appendices, source notes, glossary, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)