The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga


Dr. J. Hill Craddock

 

Magazine 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 recently, 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.