Dr. Ben Smith, Research Scholar with the Forest Restoration Alliance at North Carolina State University was this year’s keynote speaker at the 2018 Hemlock Camp Meeting of Save Georgia’s Hemlocks. The title of Ben’s presentation was “The Quest for Adelgid-Resistant Hemlocks.”  Here is an excerpt from an interview with Ben. Q: What got you interested in hemlock research? The plight of hemlock and the hemlock woolly adelgid wasn’t really even on my radar until I was nearing completion of grad school at NC State in 2010. I found out that the Forest Restoration Alliance (back then named Alliance for Saving Threatened Forests) was looking for a person to help start a selection and breeding program for host resistance to HWA, and it was a perfect fit for me. I was really excited about getting to be involved with a tree improvement program from the very beginning, and getting to work with species like eastern and Carolina hemlock made it even better. Q: What you’re hoping to accomplish through your research? We have several major goals for our research. One is to produce trees resistant to adelgids that are suitable for restoration of impacted hemlock ecosystems— so trees are a very close replacement for what was lost, and whose offspring are also resistant to adelgids. The other major goal is to produce adelgid-resistant trees that will be available to the nursery industry as a suitable replacement for hemlocks in ornamental uses. These trees may not produce offspring that are resistant, and
may differ slightly in appearance from the eastern and Carolina hemlocks they replace, but be able to fill the same unique niche that hemlocks formerly occupied. We are still probably a fairly long way off from the restoration goal, but are much closer to being able to impact the nursery and landscape industries Q: What is the greatest challenge in your hemlock work? Probably the greatest challenge for our work, and many tree breeding programs in general, is the relatively long generation times for hemlock. It takes a significant amount of time to propagate a tree for resistance screening, conduct the screening, propagate the trees selected from the screening to reproductive age (producing cones and/or pollen), then propagating the offspring for screening as well. The entire process can easily take over a decade. Q: How can individuals and organizations support your work? One way people can help us is by reporting trees that could be potentially resistant or tolerant. Reporting is most easily done through the TreeSnap app, which can be found at treesnap.org. Both individuals and organizations can also participate as volunteers. We have periodic volunteer days that are scheduled and coordinated by the Hemlock Restoration Initiative (savehemlocksnc.org). Individuals interested in more regular volunteer involvement may also contact us directly. And of course, we always welcome financial support through donations. More information is available at threatenedforests.com.