Guns for Reproduction
When it comes to guns and reproduction, the English language has no shortage of euphemisms, innuendos and similes connecting to the two together. Four decades before it was depicted in Full Metal Jacket, marines were chanting derivatives of, “This is my rifle, this is my gun; One is for [work] and the other is for fun” as they trained for battle in the Pacific. There are shotgun weddings. A man can do a one-gun salute to a pretty ladies and later, if things go his way, he can shoot off his load.
The phallic nature of firearms is not likely to be new to you and it certainly isn’t new to me. What is new to me, however, is the discovery that the connection goes deeper than words. Guns can actually be used for reproduction… reproduction of trees!
One of the American Chestnut Foundations initiatives is a backcross breeding program. I got to visit their Meadowview farm last June at Trail Days. They started by combining American Chestnut trees which could grow tall and sturdy and can compete in the Appalachian forest with Chinese Chestnut trees which are smaller but are resistant to the blight fungus. Then with each successive generation, researchers work to eliminate all of the Chinese traits except the blight resistance. To do this, to breed trees that are increasingly American, they need…American pollen.
On January 17th, I attended a lecture series on “The Restoration of the American Chestnut” in Richmond, Virginia. During one of the breaks, I got to eavesdrop on two men much smarter than I– new Virginia Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation Board Member, Dr. John A. Scrivani, and Chestnut Restoration Biologist, Robert Strasser. They discussed the collection efforts of all that precious American pollen.
You see, American Chestnut trees can get pretty tall and guess what! The large survivors aren’t all accessible by a nice, convenient bucket truck. What’s a pollen collector to do? Haul a ladder all the way out there? Just leave the tree out of the breeding program?
Dr. Scrivani has another approach. He takes a shotgun and shoots a small branch of the tree. Gravity works its magic, suddenly the male catkins are easier to reach and Dr. Scrivani has his pollen!
Back at the research farms like Meadowview, the pollen is used in controlled matches. As summer passes, the flowers turn to spiky chestnut burrs. Fall arrives. The seeds are harvested and planted. They become the next generation of trees.
True sons of a gun.