Tuesday November 19, 2013 | 07:46 AM

Three American chestnut trees in Baxter Woods in Portland, Maine.

Since being elected, Mayor Michael Brennan of Portland, Maine has overseen the planting of several apple and cherry trees. However, it is his support of the planting of four blight-resistant American chestnut trees in Baxter Woods earlier this year that has made the news. Portland already has two small American chestnut trees growing in the Longfellow Arboretum and two wild American chestnuts, one of which is in the woods at Evergreen Cemetery. Maine is a part of the campaign to resurrect this valuable tree, which once provided food for wildlife and wood for everything from barn rafters to furniture.

The American chestnut tree was a fast growing tree in North America, making up an estimated 25 percent of the population of hardwood trees on the east coast, until the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was practically wiped out by a fungal disease transferred from imported Asian trees.

Since the 1980s, the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) has supported research by plant breeders and geneticists to create an American chestnut tree with the ability to survive the blight disease. For more on their work go here

Jeff Tarling, Portland’s City Arborist, contacted the Maine Chapter of TACF early in the spring asking if Portland could help with their mission to restore the tree to eastern woodlands. The foundation offered the town four American chestnut seedlings. The Forestry Section of Portland’s Public Services Department, which Tarling oversees, is responsible of the monitoring and watering of the trees. The staff will conduct pruning and care of the three surviving trees (one did not make it through the summer) as needed over the next few years.

Curious about how climate change will affect Portland’s fledgling American chestnut trees and how others can help restore the tree, I connected with Jeff Tarling.

SK: How are you helping the public appreciate the planting of these trees in Portland?

JT: Portland has a long history, being ‘the Forest City’, of tree advocacy. We are fortunate to have a Mayor and City Council that are very supportive of trees, parks and open spaces. This trickles down to our care of community forests and involving Portland Schools with ‘greening’ activities. Students from Lincoln Middle School & Catherine McAuley High School use Baxter Woods for outdoor environmental education. Both schools are within walking distance to the park and conduct routine field trips along with Longfellow School and Deering High School. We work with city partners from our Recreation Division and outside groups like ‘Cultivating Community’ & ‘Portland Trails’ to expand resources as well.

SK: Today’s climate is changing and is already less like it was even 20 or 30 years ago and will change a lot more in the next 50 years. How do you see climate change affecting the healthy growth of these trees?

JT: The American chestnut grows in a wide range in its natural area, Maine is now on the northern edge so it shouldn’t effect this species for us… Sugar Maple, Beech, Eastern Hemlock and other boreal forest species is now a concern for the Northeast region with future climate change.

SK: What is on the horizon? Is the goal to have more trees planted in the future?

JT: We hope to plant more American chestnut trees in Portland in the future. The concept of adding ‘edible’ trees to our public landscape is trending. Capisic Pond Park, Deering Oaks along with the Eastern & Western Cemeteries are future chestnut sites.

SK: What is your advice to somebody in Maine who wants to help – either by donating funds or planting their own chestnut trees?

JT: Start with a plan, there are great resources available from groups like the Maine chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation along with the Maine Forest Service, Cooperative Extension and local land trusts. The science and the work to date by TACF both on a national level and here in Maine has greatly improved the chances of the American Chestnut tree returning. The local Maine Chapter has a great website http://www.me-acf.org/Home.html and is very involved throughout the state. The American chestnut is a wonderful native tree – every town should have them!

Cooking with Chestnuts:
How to roast chestnuts over an open fire. 
My favorite way to eat chestnuts – in this recipe for Pumpkin, Sage, Chestnut and Bacon Risotto.  
Martha Stewart’s recipe for chestnut stuffing.  
The Boston Globe just ran this feature on chestnut based soups. 

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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