Planting for posterity

One of our team pounding in a support for a planting in front of a restaurant.

It was a Saturday to plant trees, though the conditions weren’t ideal: temps in the low-mid 30s with some wind and a couple very small flurries. But it was also April 27, the last officially designated day for Buffalo’s Re-Tree effort, which has installed 30,000 trees throughout the area since 2006. There are other tree installation projects that go on regularly here, but Re-Tree had a goal and, on Saturday, it hit it.

Our small group planted ten or so—all in urban easeway/tree lawn spaces—and called it a day. Trees were still on my mind, though, as I websurfed by the fire over an inclement spring weekend. First, I read about China reassigning 60,000 soldiers to plant new forests (thanks, Allen Bush). Then I saw a post promoting Buffalo’s Cherry Blossom Festival, which is held in Olmsted’s Delaware Park near a Japanese garden (sort of an atypical one) that extends out into that park’s ornamental lake. The fest begins tomorrow and extends through the weekend; it includes cultural events like taiko performances, tea ceremonies, folk dancing, and more. The organizers have lucked out most years, and even this year (with winterish temps persisting) many of the trees are in bloom.

Just like most posts, at first the comments about the fest were benign. But then, it took an ugly turn. A “Why plant these nonnative trees?” wave began to form and tended to deluge the information. By the end, I’m not sure if many even knew this was about a cherry blossom festival, except for those who were interested in bashing the one in Washington (too crowded).

This is why we can’t have nice things. I’m okay with a few cherry blossoms when I know that local street plantings efforts generally focus on a diverse variety of trees, mostly natives. It’s a small, pretty festival; long may it thrive.

Bigger issues are at stake with the American Chestnut Research & Restoration Project at ESF, which is headquartered a couple hours away from me in Syracuse, NY.

These scientists are trying to bring back the American Chestnut from its near extinction (5 billion lost to the Cryphonectria parasitica fungus). They have developed a blight-resistant tree using genetic engineering. They’ve been working on it for years, and are now asking permission from federal regulators to plant these trees in the wild. There are also hybrids that have been developed through the American Chestnut Foundation.

I listened to an NPR On Point segment and heard from the scientists in favor of the GE introduction and those not in favor.

Without a deep dive into the science (which can be found in these links and easily located elsewhere), I can see that the ESF project has been underway for a while, including years of controlled field trials. One trait has been added, for blight resistance, while, as lead scientist William Powell notes, the hybridization also involve plenty of unpredictable genetic changes. On the other side, the chestnut effort, however noble, is being seen as the tip of the iceberg for commercial GE tree exploitation.

In the end, I don’t know. But I’ve heard enough to understand that this is an effort to reintroduce a great tree into our forests.

Planting for posterity originally appeared on GardenRant on April 30, 2019.

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