JAY — Spruce Mountain middle and high school students and staff planted 160 chestnut tree seedlings behind the schools Tuesday morning as part of a national program to reintroduce the species.

Maine Forest Service district forester Patty Cormier of Farmington asked middle school teacher Rob Taylor about the project and he got permission from Jay selectpersons to plant them on town recreation land off Water Tower Lane.

Stephen Gettle, owner of Woodland Investment Services and a licensed forester, manages Jay’s woodlots. He and Cormier assisted with the planting.

Taylor said the American chestnut tree, which can grow up to 100 feet tall, was common prior to the late 1800s. 

“Stephen Gettle told me one out of every four trees was an American chestnut,” Taylor said.

“The American chestnut is a very important crop for wildlife,” he said. “The nuts have more nutrition than apples and are dropped in late fall.” 

Also, he said, “American chestnut trees are slower-growing than Chinese chestnuts. Americans grow much higher and the wood is more valuable.” 

“It’s hard and durable, used for flooring, and very expensive,” Gettle said.

Spruce Mountain teacher Jay Lindsay has been working with the American Chestnut Foundation, which is trying to bring chestnut trees back. 

Taylor said American chestnuts were crossed with Chinese chestnuts to the point that trees now are 1/16th Chinese and 15/16ths American chestnut.

Eighth-grader David Leach said the hybrids are “as close to the American chestnut as possible and should carry resistance from the Chinese chestnut.”

Taylor said two rows of Chinese chestnut seedlings, two rows of hybrids and two rows of American chestnut trees will be planted in one plot and four rows of hybrids in another.

Cormier showed the students how to plant the seedlings, making sure each was level with the ground with soil firmly packed around it.

“This is part of a national study,” she said. “Students will be collecting real data for a national database.” 

Taylor said the planting is connected to a unit on genetics being taught this year.

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Spruce Mountain Middle School teacher Rob Taylor tells middle and high school students the difference between the American and Chinese chestnut tree seedlings he holds. Students planted chestnut tree seedlings Tuesday morning behind the schools.

Licensed forester Stephen Gettle and Maine Forest Service district forester Patty Cormier show Spruce Mountain middle and high school students how to plant chestnut trees Tuesday morning in Jay. The 150 students and staff planted 160 trees on town land behind the schools.

Spruce Mountain Middle School students Emma Blaisdell, Samantha Hubbard and Christy-Lynn Beaudoin plant a Chinese chestnut tree on town land behind the Jay school Tuesday morning. Other students carry dirt or dig holes.

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