American chestnut (Castanea dentata (Marsh.) Borkh.) was formerly the most important hardwood species throughout the forests of eastern North America. The introduction of an exotic fungal blight (Cryphonectria parasitica (Murr.) Barr) in the early 20th century decimated C. dentata populations. Blight-resistant chestnut hybrids may soon be available for widespread distribution through The American Chestnut Foundations breeding program, although the development of blight-resistant hybrids is only the first step of the restoration process. For successful introduction, more information must be attained about site requirements necessary for successful establishment and growth of American chestnut. Surface mine spoils in the Appalachian coal region and elsewhere may prove suitable for the establishment of founder populations of blight-resistant chestnut hybrids which may then act as reservoirs for chestnut dispersal into surrounding forests.
Mine spoils in the Appalachian region may foster chestnut growth and therefore benefit restoration efforts for
- reforestation experiments on loose mine spoils in the Appalachian region have shown high survival and good growth rates.
- un-compacted spoils are initially devoid of pathogenic microbial communities which may aid chestnut establishment.
- loose-dumped mine sites are well-drained which may aid in hindering the establishment and colonization by Phytophthora cinnamomi, a filamentous protist that is the causative agent of a root rot disease has led to high chestnut mortality in Kentucky and elsewhere.
- the Appalachian coal region falls entirely within the natural distribution of American chestnut.
Should mine spoils prove conducive to chestnut growth, establishing founder populations that could naturally disperse into the surrounding forests throughout the range of the Appalachian coal region would improve chances for restoring the chestnut. Furthermore, newly reclaimed sites provide a blank slate where competition problems from established vegetation that are associated with forest plantings can be avoided. As such, several studies have been initiated to evaluate the suitability of loosely compacted mine lands for establishing American chestnut founder populations.
For more information on the American Chestnut, visit the American Chestnut Foundation.