Dr. J. Hill Craddock
features biologist’s research
“Chestnutty” is the way Smithsonian
magazine describes Dr. J. Hill Craddock.
A feature story in this month’s issue on the Davenport Associate
Professor in Biology introduced readers to his research at Bendabout
Farm outside Chattanooga, where he works to breed a blight-resistant
hybrid of Asian-American chestnut trees. Craddock’s work
was also featured in the latest issue of Tennessee Conservationist.
As coordinator of the Chattanooga Chestnut Tree Project, Craddock
has called the loss of the American Chestnut tree “the greatest
ecological disaster in North America since the ice age.” The
central Appalachians were once covered with the trees, but in 1904,
an invasive Asian fungus severely diminished the flowering forests
of American Chestnuts.
Last spring, hundreds of new plantings were put into the ground
locally, and Craddock has been busy with the breeding procedures
that will ultimately produce a blight resistant tree more closely
resembling the American Chestnut, while phasing out its Asian characteristics.
Craddock has also been busy saving trees from the bulldozer. Most
road construction would have destroyed a 12 acre lot of American
chestnuts locally, and Craddock and his students moved the trees
they could salvage to the orchards. He said that summer was not
the best time to move trees, but he remains optimistic.
The chances for the survival of a blight resistant chestnut tree
are uncertain. Orchards provide a safe environment, but in the
forest, Craddock concedes conditions are very different. Craddock
told the Smithsonian, “Trees are competing for nutrients
and light. And you’ve got the constant pressure of predation.
There are insects and mollusks, mammals and fungi—and they’re
all trying to eat you. I don’t think we can expect to plant
seeds allover the mountains and come back in 50 years and find
a chestnut forest.” Always optimistic, Craddock hopes that
in his grandchildren’s lifetime, the chestnut tree forests
will again be plentiful.