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Individual Highlight

Surviving Butternut Trees Benefit From Better Sites Rather than Disease Resistance

Photo of A butternut tree in southern Wisconsin with symptoms of butternut canker disease. This tree will die soon. Although other butternut trees in the same stand are relatively healthy, their resistance is not genetic but based on favorable site conditions. Nicholas LaBonte, Purdue UniversityA butternut tree in southern Wisconsin with symptoms of butternut canker disease. This tree will die soon. Although other butternut trees in the same stand are relatively healthy, their resistance is not genetic but based on favorable site conditions. Nicholas LaBonte, Purdue UniversitySnapshot : Butternut trees are rapidly disappearing because of butternut canker disease. Rare healthy trees appeared to hold hope for resistance to butternut canker. Unfortunately, a 10-year study by Forest Service scientists shows that these trees are not genetically resistant but possibly growing in drier sites that prolong their lives. A successful recovery strategy for butternut trees must integrate Forest Service expertise in tree breeding and forest management to identify sites where trees are less susceptible.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Woeste, Keith 
Research Location : Research was performed at a field site near Whitewater, WI and in laboratories at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 804

Summary

Groves of butternut trees were once a common feature along streams and in woodlots of the eastern United States. Native Americans, settlers, and farmers, as well as wildlife, have enjoyed butternuts, and butternut bark was used for medicine and as a dye. Healthy butternut trees are now rare because of a lethal new fungal disease called butternut canker. Geneticists with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center at Purdue University have studied the rare healthy butternut trees growing among groups of trees dying from butternut canker. Their goal is to understand if the resistant butternut trees contain genes useful for breeding resistant butternut varieties. They focused on a stand of trees in southern Wisconsin, where a large group of butternut trees has been monitored for over 15 years. Using DNA from each tree and an extensive dataset related to tree health, they found that differences in survival among infected butternuts were not a matter of genetics but a matter of environment. The study revealed thatButternut survival is prolonged significantly when trees grow on drier sites. This finding suggests that butternut restoration work should now shift focus to finding genetic disease resistance in butternut relatives and proper site selection for reforestation.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • USDA Forest Service St. Paul, MN
  • Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources