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Inadequate Cold Tolerance as a Possible Limitation to American Chestnut Restoration in the Northeastern United States


K. M. Gurney, email


The American chestnut (Castanea dentata (Marshall) Borkh.), once a major component of eastern forests from Maine to Georgia, was functionally removed from the forest ecosystem by chestnut blight (an exotic fungal disease caused by Cryphonectria parasitica (Murr.) Barr), first identified at the beginning of the twentieth century. Hybrid-backcross breeding programs that incorporate the blight resistance of Chinese chestnut (Castenea mollissima Blume) and Japanese chestnut (Castenea crenata Sieb. & Zuc.) into American chestnut stock show promise for achieving the blight resistance needed for species restoration. However, it is uncertain if limitations in tissue cold tolerance within current breeding programs might restrict the restoration of the species at the northern limits of American chestnut's historic range. Shoots of American chestnut and hybrid-backcross chestnut (i.e., backcross chestnut) saplings growing in two plantings in Vermont were tested during November 2006, February 2007, and April 2007 to assess their cold tolerance relative to ambient low temperatures. Shoots of two potential native competitors, northern red oak (Quercus rubra L.) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum L.), were also sampled for comparison. During the winter, American and backcross chestnuts were approximately 5°C less cold tolerant than red oak and sugar maple, with a tendency for American chestnut to be more cold tolerant than the backcross chestnut. Terminal shoots of American and backcross chestnut also showed significantly more freezing damage in the field than nearby red oak and sugar maple shoots, which showed no visible injury.