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They Speak For the Trees

Faculty and staff in the college are conducting research on Pennsylvania's trees with a goal of saving ecologically and economically important species teetering on the brink of extinction.
Ash and chestnut leaves

Ash and chestnut leaves

Ash

The Problem

Ash trees are being decimated by the invasive emerald ash borer insect, which has killed tens of millions of ash trees across North America. A strong and durable wood, ash is greatly valued for as a material for baseball bats, tool handles, and other products.

The Research

In 1978, Kim Steiner, professor of forest biology and director of The Arboretum at Penn State, planted 2,100 ash trees collected from 27 states and Canadian provinces in a seven-acre plot off of Porter Road, University Park. Ninety-five percent of these trees are now dead, but a few remain. The survivors may yield insights--genetic or otherwise--that could help save the species. Steiner and others in the college are pursuing possibilities.

Chestnut

The Problem

The chestnut blight, a fungus introduced from Asia, wiped out the American chestnut species across its 180-million-acre range in the first half of the twentieth century. Chestnut trees had produced untold tons of food for wildlife, and food and lumber for humans.

The Research

The college's 27-year-old traditional breeding program is gaining new assistance from tree molecular geneticists at Penn State and five other universities to merge genetic modification, hypovirulence, and traditional breeding into its goal of restoring the American chestnut tree.

--Jeff Mulhollem