The hunt continues for American chestnut trees

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HEBRON — The discovery of a 95-foot-tall American chestnut tree in Hebron this fall set off excitement nationwide.

But as the year came to a close, the tree, located on Ann Siekman and Roger Crockett’s property on Back Street, is still waiting its turn to be called “the largest American chestnut tree in the state.”

“This Hebron tree is the tallest chestnut tree that our organization knows of in the native range,” said Glen Rea, president of the Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.

The largest American chestnut tree in Maine, and the one that remains the state champion this year, is in the small town of Atkinson, about 40 miles north of Bangor. Rea said the Atkinson tree is about 20 feet shorter than the Hebron tree, but bigger in circumference.

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The Atkinson tree is currently 107 inches in circumference and the Hebron tree is about 78 inches in circumference. Rea said the Hebron tree should grow about one inch in diameter or three plus inches in circumference per year. The Atkinson tree, which has the chestnut blight, will probably not grow much.

It is probable the Hebron tree will overtake the Atkinson tree in the near future as state champion, Rea said.

The trees are measured by circumference, height and average crown spread. The total points, which determine the overall size of a  tree, are calculated by adding the circumference in inches, the height in feet and one-quarter of the crown spread in feet.

The native range encompasses more than 200 million acres of eastern woodlands from Maine to Florida, where American chestnut trees once naturally flourished until a blight began in 1904, decimating the trees. Rea said there are larger chestnut trees outside the native range, but they have been planted and are in areas that do not have a large concentration of the fungal blight.

“We have found over 200 mature American chestnut trees in Maine, and most of them are in mid-Maine,” said Rea. He said the chances are great that there are many more American chestnut trees in these areas.

Rea said the late Joe Floyd, who grew up in the Rumford area and was on the board of directors of the Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, told members stories about seeing lots of chestnut trees while he was out hunting in the late 1930s and 1940s.

In 2004, former Gov. John Baldacci allowed Joe Floyd to use a Maine Game Warden plane to search for the trees, which bloom in early July. But when Floyd was leaving Augusta to look for chestnut trees in the Rumford area, he became airsick and the plane turned around, Rea said.

Now, Jean Federico of the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District, which sponsored the “Big Tree” contest this summer that originally uncovered the Hebron American chestnut tree, said she hopes to have people in this region go on a hunt this spring to find other American chestnut trees.

“Chances are, there are many more in your area, but we haven’t had the time or resources to look for them,” Rea said. He said Federico and state forester Merle Ring are doing a great service for the Foundation in trying to locate the trees.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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