Students Help with Chestnut Tree Research

March 3, 2021 / Andrea Wenger
American Chestnut Tree seedling planting. Photo by Loren Hostetter
American Chestnut Tree seedling planting. Photo by Loren Hostetter

Four EMS students supported an effort to help re-introduce the American Chestnut tree to U.S. soil on a recent chilly Saturday morning in a mountain forest in Hopkins Gap, Virginia, near Gospel Hill Church.

The student volunteers, who have all been active in the school’s sustainability and service efforts, were Elisabeth Fink ’22, Karla Hostetter ’21, Halie Mast ’21, and Sidney Rhodes ’22. They joined former EMS science teacher Lee Good on the outing. Loren Hostetter, originally from Harrisonburg and father of former EMS students,  is overseeing the tree research.

Hostetter’s research grows out of his long-time passion for trees and natural resource conservation. He is currently based in Kenya, working for the Canadian Food Grains Bank, and returns to Harrisonburg to visit family. Hostetter contacted Good for EMS student involvement in his research in Virginia. The 36 seedlings planted by the group were placed on land owned by Hostetter’s extended family. See extensive additional coverage on The Citizen and an article in Anabaptist World.

The enormous, majestic American Chestnut once “reigned over 200 million acres of eastern woodlands from Maine to Florida, and from the Piedmont plateau in the Carolinas west to the Ohio Valley,” according to The American Chestnut Foundation. The trees fell to a lethal fungus infestation, known as the chestnut blight, during the first half of the 20th century.

“The seedlings we planted are from survivors of the blight,” explained Good.  The seedlings are from fewer than 20 known mature trees that have survived the blight, Hostetter told the group. Seeds from these trees have been collected, planted in nurseries, and are being transplanted to appropriate locations.
“The seedlings have been bred to encourage the genes that allowed a few trees to survive the blight to be emphasized, without introducing genes from other species of chestnut, such as the Chinese Chestnut,” reported Good.
Hostetter hopes that in the near future, Shenandoah National Park will allow trees to be planted in the park, and begin the process of reintroducing a tree whose absence has profoundly impacted forest ecosystems. “This isn’t actually really connected to my professional work,” writes Hostetter. “It’s just a passion to plant and restore, and wonderful to include EMS students in the effort.”


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  1. James Åkerson on March 5, 2021 at 5:33 pm

    It’s great to learn of the school’s involvement in helping to restore the American chestnut. Blessings. to all.

  2. Ellen Malona on March 20, 2021 at 8:38 am

    We have a 200 acre piece of Adirondack forest, privately owned, and we’d be interested in helping with this project by planting out chestnut trees. I’m a horticulturist and know a bit about replanting trees. Couldn’t find an email address to send an inquiry to, but please put us into contact with someone that can help.

    • Andrea Wenger on March 20, 2021 at 9:23 am

      We are so happy this story built this connection! We will email you privately with information about connecting. Thank you for writing!

    • White Cloud on March 23, 2021 at 10:12 pm

      @ Ellen – check out the ACF and ACCF (2 different organizations) online. ACF has a very active chapter in PA. A growing number of nurseries are selling chestnuts seeds or seedlings. I had a beautiful chestnut that started bearing in year 4, and passed 30′ in year 6. Perfect upright form. Plant yourself a bunch and enjoy watching them grow!

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