Are you looking for an interesting way to spend Valentine's evening? Lees-McRae College offers a fascinating lecture on the American Chestnut tree, the former sweetheart of the Appalachian forest. Dr. Gene Spears, chairman of the Division of Science and Mathematics at the college will present his program "The History and Future of the American Chestnut in Appalachia"ï¿½ at 7:00 p.m. in the Stafford Room of the Carson Library on Thursday, February 14.
Spears' lecture is part of the Stephenson Center for Appalachia Lecture Series, and is free and open to the public. The biology professor has studied the chestnut tree for many years, participating in attempts to raise a tree resistant to the fungus that has attacked this species that was crucial to the settling of the mountains. Formerly he served as Secretary for the Carolina Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.
The Appalachian forest today is far different from that of a century ago. Then the chestnut was the dominant species of the climax forest and played an important role in the lives of both human and animal denizens of Southern Appalachia.
Woodland wildlife depended on the annual bounty that literally fell from high above. Chestnut trees grew to great heights, over 70 feet, and reached several feet in diameter, and the huge limbs bore thousands of the spiky nutcases. When fall arrived, the wild animals, livestock, and mountain farmers depended upon the rich harvest of nuts, and the strong, resistant wood formed fences, furniture, buildings, and wagons. Chestnut also made excellent firewood and was used as acid wood for tanning leather.
Then in 1904 the forester of Bronx Park in New York City noticed that his American chestnuts were dying. By 1950, virtually the entire stand of American chestnuts in the East had been destroyed by the chestnut blight caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, unwittingly imported from China. For decades scientists have worked to find a way to restore this legendary tree to the American forest.
"We are fortunate to have Dr. Spears to tell the story of the Chestnut,"ï¿½ said Dr. Michael Joslin, director of the Stephenson Center for Appalachia at Lees-McRae College. "He has been involved for several years in the attempts develop a tree resistant to the blight but having all the characteristics of the original tree. I look forward to hearing his story and invite everyone to join us for what should be an entertaining and illuminating evening."ï¿½
Spears will present his talk on Thursday, February 14 at 7:00 p.m. in the Stafford Room of the Carson Library on the Lees-McRae campus. As part of the Stephenson Center for Appalachia lecture series, the program is free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome to attend. For information call Megan Hall, at 828-898-8729.
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