Conservationists pose with an American chestnut sapling at the Meadowcroft Estate...

Conservationists pose with an American chestnut sapling at the Meadowcroft Estate in Sayville on May 1. From left: The Long Island Conservancy's Melissa Feudi, Frank Piccininni, Marshall Brown and Samuel Salata; and Mary Bailey, of the Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association. Credit: Barry Sloan

The American chestnut — once among the largest, tallest, fastest-growing trees in the eastern U.S. woodlands — could see a revival on Long Island.

A group of Island environmentalists hopes to restore chestnuts as part of a national push to reproduce the forest giants, long considered an American icon.

These trees can grow as high as 130 feet, with trunks so wide that it would take more than five people to link their hands around the base, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Nearly 4 billion once dotted the American landscape, according to the American Chestnut Foundation. But, by 1950, a deadly pathogen had wiped that population out.

Now the Meadow Croft Estate in Sayville is among the latest Long Island locations to become home to a burgeoning orchard of American chestnut trees. Because of the pathogen, a fungus called chestnut blight that kills aboveground tissue, the tree has been relegated to the understory as small saplings that die off within around a decade.

The Long Island Conservancy, an environmental group dedicated to habitat restoration, planted the “mother orchard” at Meadow Croft in partnership with the New York chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.

The goal, environmentalists said, is to eventually cross pollinate the saplings with a genetically engineered line from scientists at SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse. The saplings are now undergoing federal regulatory review. Around half of the next generation of trees should be blight-resistant, said Frank Piccininni, co-founder and board member of the Long Island Conservancy.

The conservancy has planted around 25 orchards of American chestnuts across Long Island since 2020, including at the Sayville estate, according to Piccininni.

Seeds are carefully cultivated with the help of a volunteer from the state chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, Niko Nantsis. He climbs trees as tall as 65 feet to hand-pollinate flowers from chestnuts that have continued to regenerate from the roots.

“There’s almost no natural reproduction from nuts,” said Allen Nichols, president of the New York chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.

“The chestnuts that we find, almost 100%  of those that we find wild in the woods, are not from nuts, they’re just coming up from the old root systems. And those root systems are dying.”

Without human efforts, he said, the American chestnut would go extinct.

Part of those efforts include the genetically engineered line from SUNY ESF, where scientists have inserted a wheat gene into the chestnut trees to make them more blight resistant.

The gene would not prevent the trees from getting blight or kill the blight fungus, said Andrew Newhouse, director of the project, “but rather [let] the trees survive blight with less damage than they would otherwise.”

The national American Chestnut Foundation has pulled support for the line, citing a pollen mix-up and “disappointing performance results,” according to its website. The New York chapter continues to advocate for the upstate SUNY project, which members say has been successful.

Marshall Brown, executive director and co-founder of the Long Island Conservancy, highlighted the economic value of the tree, which produced rot-resistant wood that was used for furniture and building materials, and chestnuts that fed both people and livestock.

He estimates Long Island lost around 100,000 American chestnut trees due to blight.

Piccininni, who is also a member of the New York chestnut chapter, cited the tree's ecological significance, comparing its removal to taking a block from a Jenga puzzle tower.

“The more you pull the bricks out of the Jenga, the closer the thing is to collapsing onto itself,” he said. “We pulled out a pretty major brick with the chestnuts.”

That’s why encouraging the regrowth of the American chestnut is a priority for the Long Island Conservancy, which also works to remove invasive plants, including at Meadow Croft, where caretakers say they “love” being part of the movement to restore the species.

The orchard “puts us on the map,” said Mary Bailey, president of the Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association, which maintains the estate.

“How lucky are we, that we get to be part of this regrowth of the chestnut grove?”

The American chestnut — once among the largest, tallest, fastest-growing trees in the eastern U.S. woodlands — could see a revival on Long Island.

A group of Island environmentalists hopes to restore chestnuts as part of a national push to reproduce the forest giants, long considered an American icon.

These trees can grow as high as 130 feet, with trunks so wide that it would take more than five people to link their hands around the base, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Nearly 4 billion once dotted the American landscape, according to the American Chestnut Foundation. But, by 1950, a deadly pathogen had wiped that population out.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • American chestnut trees could see a comeback on Long Island, thanks to the efforts of environmentalists who have planted around 25 orchards of saplings since 2020.
  • Long considered an American icon, the chestnut was deemed functionally extinct after the tree — once a dominant species in eastern U.S. woodlands — was wiped out by a deadly foreign pathogen in the 20th century. 
  • The Long Island Conservancy hopes to eventually cross-pollinate the saplings with a line undergoing federal regulatory review that has been genetically engineered to better survive the blight.

Now the Meadow Croft Estate in Sayville is among the latest Long Island locations to become home to a burgeoning orchard of American chestnut trees. Because of the pathogen, a fungus called chestnut blight that kills aboveground tissue, the tree has been relegated to the understory as small saplings that die off within around a decade.

The Long Island Conservancy, an environmental group dedicated to habitat restoration, planted the “mother orchard” at Meadow Croft in partnership with the New York chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.

Chestnuts planted across LI

The goal, environmentalists said, is to eventually cross pollinate the saplings with a genetically engineered line from scientists at SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse. The saplings are now undergoing federal regulatory review. Around half of the next generation of trees should be blight-resistant, said Frank Piccininni, co-founder and board member of the Long Island Conservancy.

The conservancy has planted around 25 orchards of American chestnuts across Long Island since 2020, including at the Sayville estate, according to Piccininni.

Seeds are carefully cultivated with the help of a volunteer from the state chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, Niko Nantsis. He climbs trees as tall as 65 feet to hand-pollinate flowers from chestnuts that have continued to regenerate from the roots.

“There’s almost no natural reproduction from nuts,” said Allen Nichols, president of the New York chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.

“The chestnuts that we find, almost 100%  of those that we find wild in the woods, are not from nuts, they’re just coming up from the old root systems. And those root systems are dying.”

Without human efforts, he said, the American chestnut would go extinct.

Genetically engineered line

Part of those efforts include the genetically engineered line from SUNY ESF, where scientists have inserted a wheat gene into the chestnut trees to make them more blight resistant.

The gene would not prevent the trees from getting blight or kill the blight fungus, said Andrew Newhouse, director of the project, “but rather [let] the trees survive blight with less damage than they would otherwise.”

The national American Chestnut Foundation has pulled support for the line, citing a pollen mix-up and “disappointing performance results,” according to its website. The New York chapter continues to advocate for the upstate SUNY project, which members say has been successful.

Marshall Brown, executive director and co-founder of the Long Island Conservancy, highlighted the economic value of the tree, which produced rot-resistant wood that was used for furniture and building materials, and chestnuts that fed both people and livestock.

He estimates Long Island lost around 100,000 American chestnut trees due to blight.

Piccininni, who is also a member of the New York chestnut chapter, cited the tree's ecological significance, comparing its removal to taking a block from a Jenga puzzle tower.

“The more you pull the bricks out of the Jenga, the closer the thing is to collapsing onto itself,” he said. “We pulled out a pretty major brick with the chestnuts.”

That’s why encouraging the regrowth of the American chestnut is a priority for the Long Island Conservancy, which also works to remove invasive plants, including at Meadow Croft, where caretakers say they “love” being part of the movement to restore the species.

The orchard “puts us on the map,” said Mary Bailey, president of the Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association, which maintains the estate.

“How lucky are we, that we get to be part of this regrowth of the chestnut grove?”

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East Hampton discrimination … Hempstead housing development … Holocaust survivor learns to dance  Credit: Newsday

Updated 50 minutes ago Sands Beach Club fire ... LI sharks this summer ... Rangers Game 4 ... Cheap Florida trips

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