ROXBURY — Jack Swatt, president of the 35-year-old CT Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, was joined by five people as excited as he was, to unveil the pollination results of a newly discovered American Chestnut tree on a dirt road in rural Roxbury. The group included Marilyn Keurajian of Durham, who is an avid supporter of the mission to bring back the American Chestnut.
Richard Wilhelm, who lives just up the road, recognized the significance of the tree he discovered and immediately contacted the foundation. According to Wikipedia “The American chestnut is a large deciduous tree of the beech family that is native to eastern North America.” The species became nearly extinct when a blight dating back to 1904 destroyed an estimated 4 billion American chestnut trees in its historical range, which includes Connecticut. The chestnut tree was lighter than oak, rot-resistant, and straight-growing so it was perfect for telephone poles, split railing, and construction.
On June 28, 30 bags were placed over the branches of the Roxbury tree in groups of three. Each group had been pollinated with a different American chestnut. Arborist Scott Hall used a bucket lift to reach the high branches, and on Sept. 20, he rose in the lift again to bring the bags back down. Wilhelm had approached Roxbury First Selectman Barbara Henry, who approved the pollination project to be carried out on town land.
Swatt said “It is not that easy to control genetics, but our goal is to produce blight-resistant chestnut trees. We have people offering their property for propagation, then we will return to repeat this experiment unless there are enough trees close to each other to self-pollinate. We expect just this haul from Roxbury will provide one hundred new American Chestnut trees. Two orchards of American Chestnut trees totaling two acres have been planted in Wigwam Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Litchfield as well as other CT locations.”
Jack Swatt will give a presentation about this process and the history of the American chestnut tree at the Minor Memorial Library, 23 South Street, Roxbury, on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 1 p.m.
The event is being co-sponsored by the Roxbury Land Trust and the Minor Memorial Library. For information, call the Roxbury Land Trust at 860-350-4148 or visit www.roxburylandtrust.org