Published: Nov. 29, 2012

Faculty conversations: Dennis Fulbright

By: Courtney Culey Media Communications courtney.culey@cabs.msu.eduContact(s): Jennifer Orlando Media Communications office: (517) 353-4355 cell: (517) 980-0076

About 33 years ago, plant, soil and microbial sciences professor Dennis Fulbright joined the Michigan State University faculty.

One year later, he discovered his passion and research topic: chestnuts.

“I found this very interesting situation occurring on our American Chestnut trees in Michigan, so I started studying chestnut trees,” Fulbright said.

At the turn of the 20th Century, around 1904, a fungus was discovered in the United States that had wiped out the dominant tree of the Appalachian Mountains and killed about 4 billion American Chestnut trees.

“When we lost it, we lost a very valuable resource,” he said. “The trees provided a source of food and decay resistant wood.”

However, several American Chestnut tree populations in Michigan survived due to a virus that attacked the deadly fungus.

Because of the deadly fungus, Fulbright said it’s incredibly difficult to grow and maintain American Chestnut orchards so he’s trying to find a suitable alternative.

Since 1995, Fulbright has worked with Michigan chestnut growers to establish chestnut orchards in Michigan. The ultimate goal is to create chestnut tree that does exactly what the American Chestnut tree used to do. He said that they won’t be American Chestnut trees, but “they will be the next best thing.”

“A lot of my research has been spent trying to determine what the best chestnut for Michigan is,” he said.

Along with countless hours of research and lab time, he teaches classes on diseases of forests and shrubs.

He also travels around the world tasting chestnuts.

“I just got back from Turkey, and Turkey has some fantastic chestnuts, but Michigan grows one of the sweetest, best chestnuts,” Fulbright said.

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Dennis Fulbright, professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

Dennis Fulbright, professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

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