Seed project aims to connect with Distance Education students and restore Chestnut trees

Roger Coda
Dr. Michael Jabot keeps his students in mind, placing photos of them in pots that contain Chestnut seeds.

Dr. Michael Jabot keeps his students in mind, placing photos of them in pots that contain Chestnut seeds that are part of an ongoing effort to restore the tree species.

Every spring semester at Fredonia, about 25 prospective elementary school teachers nurture American chestnut seedlings that could contribute to long-term efforts to restore the American chestnut tree in the Eastern United States.

They won’t be able to return to classrooms to plant these seeds into pots, as they would have following spring break, under the Distance Education model put into place SUNY wide to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But their seed project won’t wither. College of Education SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Michael Jabot has undertaken the Herculean task of planting these seeds during the students’ physical absence from campus. He even mounted individual photos of his students in the tiny seed pots.

“It was my way of saying that I missed them,” Dr. Jabot reflected.

“It was my way of saying that I missed them,” Dr. Jabot reflected.

The students, enrolled in EDU 403 (Teaching Science in Inclusive Educational Settings), taught by Jabot, have majors in Childhood, Childhood Inclusive or Early Childhood Education.

“We are growing these American chestnut seedlings that will serve as ‘mother trees’ for the restoration project of the American Chestnut Foundation,” Jabot explained. Seeds are collected every fall from the few American chestnut trees that remain.

A killer fungus that chokes off water and other nutrients decimated the American chestnut in the early 20th century.

The Fredonia seedlings – as many as 500 in a given year – are part of an ongoing transgenic DNA project at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry to develop a blight-tolerant American chestnut tree. Such a hardy tree has been developed, Jabot explained, but it has yet to be approved by the United States Department of Agriculture.

In the meantime, mother trees that get their start in Jabot’s science lab will be transplanted outside later this spring to help sustain the species, at least temporarily, in Chautauqua County. “We are trying to keep this native Chestnut tree on the landscape until the blight-resistant trees are approved and are able to be planted,” Jabot explained.

Researchers hope a few of these mother trees manage to survive long enough so they can become cross-pollinators with a blight-resistant Chestnut tree approved by the USDA. “Once that happens, we will be able to re-establish the American chestnut,” Jabot said.

“The chestnut tree was once among the most predominant trees in this region,” Jabot said. “Every old barn in this area was probably made of chestnut. They were about as big as sequoias,” he added, towering 100 to 125 feet.

Jabot, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is the statewide Director for Professional Development for the Science Teachers Association of New York State and a member of the New York State Science Advisory Committee for the New York Education Department.

 

 

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