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NC Zoo extends chestnut tree program to Riverbanks Zoo

Posted on 04/24/09

ASHEBORO, N.C.-As part of its ongoing program to help re-introduce the American chestnut tree to the state and region, the North Carolina Zoo has partnered with local and national tree-conservation groups to plant two rare and endangered chestnut trees at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia, S.C.

During a re-introduction and dedication ceremony held, appropriately, on Earth Day, April 22, at Riverbanks, the N.C. Zoo joined the South Carolina Forestry Commission, Trees North Carolina and the American Chestnut Foundation in the planting. The seedlings were given to the S.C. Forestry Commission by Trees North Carolina and the N.C Zoo.

The American chestnut tree once thrived in the Eastern United States from Maine to northern Florida and was one of the largest trees in the east, with diameters of more than 60 inches and heights of more than 100 feet.
But in about 1904, a deadly fungus was introduced into the United States that spread quickly through the chestnut trees in what would later be called one of the greatest ecological disasters in the history of the world's forests. By 1950, almost all of the American chestnut trees were dead--about 4 billion trees covering more than 9 million acres.

This chestnut blight, which still exists, destroys only the stems of the tree and does not kill the roots, so the roots are able to send up suckers that grow for 10-20 years and then succumb to the blight. Most of the American chestnut trees found today in the woods are sprouts from the stumps of those trees. It is hoped that these and other seedlings can begin to resist the blight.
Liz Gilland, the community forestry coordinator of the S.C. Forestry Commission, had contacted Tim Womick, co-founder of Trees North Carolina in Asheboro, about the idea of planting chestnut trees in South Carolina. They eventually put together a plan with Riverbanks to plant the trees there in Columbia.

Satch Krantz, executive director of Riverbanks, along with Andy Cabe, curator of horticulture there, accepted the trees, which had been growing as seedlings at the N.C. Zoo's greenhouse nursery.

Speakers at the ceremony included Bryan Burhans, president and CEO of the American Chestnut Foundation, who talked about the overall re-introduction program for the trees; Jim Welch, former co-host of Nature Scene; and Joel Felder, deputy state forester of the S.C. Forestry Commission, who recognized all the partners who made this planting possible. Robert McCrory, the N.C. Zoo's arbor supervisor, finished with the presentation of the trees to the zoo.

The trees were planted immediately after the dedication ceremony by the Jr. Master Gardeners (of Columbia) and staff members from Riverbanks Zoo and the N.C. Zoo.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources, Dee Freeman, Secretary; Beverly Eaves Perdue, Governor.

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