Burrillville Land Trust to give away 60 hybrid chestnut trees this Saturday

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BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville Land Trust has announced that the organization will give away 60 hybrid chestnut trees at the Burrillville Farmer’s Market on Saturday, June 18, to be held this week in conjunction with the Burrillville Family Fair.

“We know that these trees carry a lot of genetic diversity in their genes,” said Land Trust President Paul Roselli. “While they are not American Chestnut trees, these have many of the characteristics of the American Chestnut. And they should survive the chestnut blight and grow to produce their own edible chestnut nuts.”

Roselli said the giveaway is an attempt to introduce chestnut trees back into the backyard landscape. The tree, which dominated local forests for thousands of years, is now functionally extinct due to the invasive fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, better known as chestnut blight. The blight, first discovered at The Bronx Zoo in 1904, was accidentally introduced to the United States when Japanese chestnut trees were brought over for cultivation.

By 1940, the blight had spread across the American chestnuts’ entire range, which runs from Maine and southern Canada to South Carolina and Georgia, killing more than an estimated 4 billion trees, roughly 25 percent of the entire Eastern forest. The tree, in many ways, could be considered the first US native species nearly wiped out by an invasive organism, according to the land trust.

“It was truly America’s first ecological disaster,” said Roselli, noting that the country not only lost the nuts the trees produced, on which an abundance of wildlife also depended, but the chestnuts’ strong, rot-resistant lumber, which was once an economic engine in the country.

“The forest landscape looked different once the blight hit,” said Edmund Croteau, a land trust board member and project manager for the chestnut project orchestrated by the BLT. “We have established an American Chestnut Tree germ plasm conservation orchard on the Edward D. Vock Conservation Area with trees grown from seed and plants from Massachusetts, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, various places in Rhode Island and more. The hope here is to let the trees grow, flower and, we hope, produce American Chestnut nuts that are resistant to the Chestnut Tree Blight.”

“These trees are hybrids. They might have some American Chestnut in them. They might not. But they should survive and tolerate the Chestnut Blight,” said Croteau.

The organization has issued two requests to those who receive a tree. First, the group is asking recipients for a donation of any amount to the land trust.

Tree owners are also asked to fill out a promise to let us know how the tree is doing a year from now. Photos and written updates on the trees can be provided to BLT by email within the next year at burrillvillelandtrustfriends@gmail.com.

The land trust is offering one 10 to 14-inch-tall tree per household. The saplings were grown this year from seed – which cam from “all over” according to land trust members. The trees come with planting instructions and a form to fill out.

“This should be a great way to learn about the chestnut and its importance,” said Roselli.

The Burrillville Farmers’ Market and Family Fair are located at the Stillwater Mill Pavilion, 75 Tinkham Lane, in Harrisville. The market opens at 9:30 a.m. and the tree give a way starts at 10 a.m., ending at 12:30 p.m.

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