HEBRON, Maine — A contest to find the largest trees in Oxford County may have uncovered the tallest American Chestnut tree in the state and perhaps the country.
“We’re really excited about all of this,” Jean Federico of the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District, sponsor of the annual contest, said. She came to Ann Siekman’s property recently to look at an American Chestnut tree Siekman submitted for the contest.
What she and others found was unexpected. The 95-foot tall tree is not only believed to be 20 feet taller than any other recorded in the state, but is perhaps the tallest of its species in the country.
It measures 78 inches in circumference, Federico said.
“It is by far the tallest in the state, and possibly the largest in the country,” said Alan Markert, a board member of Maine Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation. He measured the tree Friday after hearing about it from Federico, Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation Commission project manager Michele Windsor and Maine state forester Merle Ring.
Federico said the tree has not been officially declared the state’s largest yet.
The American chestnut once comprised as much as 25 percent of the Northeast forest until the species was decimated by a blight beginning in 1904, according to information from the Viles Arboretum in Augusta.
“It is truly beautiful and worthy of our attention and care,” Siekman said. “We were told about the tree when we purchased this property five years ago, and have enjoyed it and shown it to many interested people.”
She and Roger Crockett purchased the land in 2007.
The discovery of the American chestnut is considered especially important because new tree growth of that species occurs infrequently. According to information in the 2008 centennial edition of “Forest Trees of Maine,” if the tree is not crowded and grows in a forest it can reach a height of 60 to 70 feet.
“In the open, the tree would have been not as tall and would have had a beautiful, full crown,” Federico said. She also noted that Siekman told her the tree has a cone-shaped crown that blossoms after everything else is done blossoming, and it can be seen from quite a distance.
Before the 1904 blight, the American chestnut trees could grow 150 feet tall and measure 6 feet in circumference, living hundreds of years, Markert said.
He told Federico that he will return next year after the tree has blossomed to take some cuttings and graft them so they will have a tree with the exact DNA.
The foundation has an ongoing program to develop a blight-resistant Maine-adapted American chestnut to restore the species.
Siekman said she is looking forward to working with the Maine Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation and the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District to provide information about the tree to the public and preserve it.