In February, the Freshwater Land Trust (FWLT), along with the Alabama Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), planted 173 American chestnut seedlings on Chandler Mountain in St. Clair County, establishing the “Joyce and Jerry Lanning Chestnut Breeding Orchard.” Joyce and Jerry Lanning are long-time friends and benefactors of FWLT and are generously donating the property where the orchard is being established. FWLT is entering into a long-term agreement with TACF to cooperatively manage the orchard.
Since the mid 1990s, the Alabama Chapter of TACF has actively participated in the national program to develop blight resistant American chestnuts, with the goal of reintroducing this once-common tree into America’s eastern forests. The Chinese chestnut – blamed for having brought the blight to America in the late 19th Century – is resistant to the chestnut fungus. TACF cross breeds the few surviving American chestnuts that flower with the Chinese chestnut to capture its coveted blight resistance, and then “back-crosses” subsequent generations with pure American chestnuts to achieve the goal of a blight-resistant chestnut with true American characteristics. It takes about 30 years and six generations of breeding to develop a blight resistant American chestnut, and the Alabama breeding program is about half way to that goal.
TACF has been working with FWLT for over a year to locate an appropriate site for a large breeding orchard to support the “home” breeding orchard operated by Dr. Jimmy Maddox on the TVA Reservation in Muscle Shoals. However, most of FWLT’s existing landholdings are in streamside bottomland areas that are not suitable for American chestnut. After hearing of our difficulty, the Lannings generously offered to donate a portion of their property on Chandler Mountain for the orchard, which is ideally suited for chestnuts. The site donated by the Lannings will afford ample space for successive plantings in the future and expansion of the orchard as TACF’s scientists direct. FWLT will manage the property for conservation purposes in perpetuity, and has committed to dedicating the site to the effort to recover the American chestnut. The trees there will be monitored by FWLT and TACF staff and volunteers, and the site will be maintained by Mr. Ronald Brothers, who is a neighbor of the Lannings on Chandler Mountain and who has generously offered his help and expertise in the effort.
Once blight resistance is finally achieved at the Lanning orchard, we hope that it will serve as a major source of blight resistant seed that can be used in the reintroduction of the tree throughout its original range in Alabama.
We appreciate very much our partnership with TACF in this endeavor, and sincerely thank Joyce and Jerry Lanning for making such a wonderful gift that will have far reaching positive impacts on Alabama’s forests in the future!