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Blight Resistant Trees Will Help PA Industry Prosper

Harrisburg - Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Foundation member Alex Day of Bellefonte, Centre County, educated attendees of the 2011 Pennsylvania Farm Show about efforts to re-establish the American Chestnut tree during a presentation on Friday, Jan. 14.

Day, nursery manager for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, said the chestnut tree was once abundant in the eastern United States, comprising more than 25 percent of forests from Maine to Mississippi, but became nearly extinct after the species was hit by blight.

The blight, caused by Asian barn fungus, is a tree killing disease that grows on bark near the bottom of the tree that causes swollen or sunken wounds that suffocate the tree from nutrients, killing leaves, branches and eventually the whole tree.

Once an important hardwood timber tree prized for its fast growth and rot resistance, Pennsylvania's hardwood lumber industry suffered greatly from the blight. Chestnut trees had been used to produce split-rail fences, fence posts, log cabins, shingles, mine timber, telegraph poles, railroad ties, beams for barns and houses, paneling and furniture.

"The chestnut tree is truly amazing because it is rot resistant and beautiful," said Don Franks, a Lancaster County resident and 10-year member of the chestnut tree foundation.

In addition to valued timber, the American chestnut tree also provides nuts to humans and wildlife. The nut is covered by a round spiny cover called a bur, but inside it is sweet and delicious.

Day said the American Chestnut Tree Foundation is working to re-establish this once abundant tree by cross-breeding the American chestnut with the Chinese chestnut, which is resistant to the Asian barn fungus. Work is being done at the foundation's research farm in Meadowview, Va., where nearly 34,000 trees are planted on 150 acres - more than the total number of American chestnut trees in the nation. The foundation has already planted some of these crossbred trees in national forests.

Volunteers from the Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Foundation work each spring to plant between 3,000 and 8,000 chestnut seeds across the state, in hopes of one day dotting the landscape with white chestnut blossoms each June.

Other demonstrations today at the farm show were:

Stage I:
Knife Sharpening demonstration - James Demarco
Wheat Weaving - Becca Rousek
Wood demonstration - PA Chestnut Foundation
Decorating Ideas - Loretta Ziegler
Operation Military Kids - Helping kids cope

Stage II:
Shavers Creek Environmental Center - Wildlife demonstration
Spinning - Terry Kunst EC
Crafting of lace - Keystone Lace Guild
Covered Bridges - Don Billitt
Building Bluebird Houses - Bluebird Society

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the largest indoor agricultural event in the nation, featuring nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 290 commercial exhibitors. The show runs Jan. 8-15 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg. Admission is free and parking is $10.

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For photos of the event, click here.