2 good talks – EpiPen and chestnuts

Bee Stings & Allergic Reactions

Last Thursday was the monthly meeting of the Cherokee Beekeepers’ Club meeting and the speaker was a MD who specializes in medical emergencies and is also a beekeeper.  Well qualified in all respects.  He outlined the differences between a local reaction to a bee sting (swelling, pain, redness) which is normal; a large local reaction where the symptoms persist for up to a week; and an allergic reaction of which anaphylaxis  is the most serious and is life threatening.  He said less than 5% of allergic reactions are anaphylaxis, that less than 50 people die each year from bee stings and for most this occurs within 30 minutes of being stung and usually from asphyxiation from swelling of the breathing passages.  He outlined symptons and treatments and when and how to use epipen.  Cost without insurance exceeds $300 and with the right insurance may cost approximately $30, it requires a prescription and expires after 1 year but has some efficacy thereafter.  There were a lot of cautions and good advice including the difficulty of distinguishing between a panic attack and a serious allergic reaction. This for me was the most interesting part and he brought a practice epipen syringe which I tried out and heard the click as it pressed into my thigh.  His key take aways were to remove the bee stinger as soon as possible by scraping not gripping, to stay calm and not panic, and to get to the emergency room as soon as possible.

the American Chestnut

Friday evening was a cocktail reception and talk by the southern science coordinator of the American Chestnut Foundation (“TACF”).  I arrived early at the Kendeda Center HQ of Trees Atlanta, which is south of downtown in an area which during my London accommodation hunting days would have been described as “not salubrious”.  The premises however are impressive – about 30 varieties of trees planted around the car park which you are challenged to identify, large rainwater collection tanks, water infiltration techniques and a large well equipped building.  I found some like minded guys and had good discussions.  A spirited anti-exotic animus prevailed and I was encouraged, and have now ordered, the book by Tellamy “Bringing Nature Home”.  After the reception we settled in the auditorium where the speaker passionately outlined the history and attributes of the American chestnut and the program the past 30 years to develop a blight resistant American chestnut.

Until 100 years ago the American chestnut dominated the eastern forests and accounted for up to 40% of the canopy.  Fast growing up to 100ft high and 5 ft diameter (though up to 10ft diameter could be achieved), a straight, rot resistant, light weight valuable timber trees for siding, split rails, shingles and furniture.  It was a large annual producer of chestnuts (mast) for wildlife and humans.  with apparently three times the mast of oak trees.  Plus the chestnuts could be ground to flour for bread making.  The iconic chestnut was to the east as the redwood is to the west.  The blight from Chinese chestnuts arrived in NYC in 1904 and by 1940 in Georgia, and wiped out about 4 billion chestnut trees.  Because the wood is rot resistant the stumps persisted and continue to produce sprouts, which die after a few years when attacked by the blight.

The TACF was founded in 1983 and the approach is to transfer the blight resistance of Chinese chestnuts to American chestnut trees by using the backcross breeding technique where you keep the American chestnut phenotype (physical characteristics) but breed in the blight resistance of the Chinese chestnut.  An objective is to have diversity in blight resistance strains so as the blight changes the trees can respond.  The Chinese chestnut is low and sprawling like an apple tree and quite unlike the tall straight limbed American chestnut.  The speaker showed a picture of himself in a bucket truck manually pollinating trees.  There are TACF chapters in 21 states and trees are grown in 300 orchards.  The “Restoration Chestnut 1.0” has at least moderate blight resistance and is being planted out in national forests and strip mined areas.  The hope is it will have enough resistance and sexually reproduce.  Work is continuing to develop an even better chestnut.  8,000 trees have been planted out which is a significant but small step to achieving their goal of re-establishing the 4 billion trees which once existed.  The speaker now works in Georgia which he says is one of the best chapters (maybe this was a comment just for our ears only) and he said an additional challenge in GA is developing chestnut resistance not only to Chinese blight but also to a root rot (phytophthora ) which occurs in clay soils such as found in middle and south Georgia.

If one joins TACF and makes a $300 donation you receive 5 Restoration Chestnut 1.0 seeds/seedlings.  For successful growing the site must be well drained, good sun, a deer fence and you must irrigate, monitor for beetles and voles and manage weeds.  And with some luck you may have an American chestnut.

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