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Citizen Scientists Make It Happen

Citizen scientist Tom Trow checking burs on the tree at his Mont Vernon, NH farm. Photo by Curt Laffin.

Joanne Dowd looks for flowers to pollinate on the tree in Merrimack, NH. Photo by Curt Lafffin.

The VT/NH-TACF Chapter is aggressively seeking wild American chestnut trees that produce viable nuts for planting in Germplasm Conservation Orchards (GCO). If the transgenic chestnut is approved for distribution, these trees will contribute to the needed genetic diversity.

A strategy that complements the search for individual wild trees is to locate flowering trees and cross pollinate them to produce nuts from two different genetic sources. During the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons citizen scientists in two neighboring NH towns, Merrimack and Mont Vernon, notified chapter board member, Curt Laffin, about their discovery of flowering chestnuts. Both trees were confirmed to be American by TACF Regional Science Coordinator, Kendra Collins.

Curt realized that these two trees were logical candidates for cross pollination. He contacted Joanne Dowd, who found the tree in Merrimack, and David Brooks, founder of the Mont Vernon tree, and asked them to help with the process. Tom Trow (pictured), owner of the Mont Vernon tree property also participated. The trees were cross-pollinated on July 8, 2020 and harvested on October 2, 2020 and both produced viable nuts! However, this was not a good growing season so the harvest was less than what was hoped for. The Mont Vernon tree yielded eight nuts while the one in Merrimack produced 13. Nevertheless, two new sources will be planted in one of the chapter’s GCOs in 2021. Had it not been for Joanne and David, this opportunity would have been missed. Citizen Scientists really do make it happen!

If you know of a flowering chestnut tree, please contact your TACF state chapter or the chapter closest to you if you do not live in a state that has a TACF chapter.