PARIS, Maine — The search is on for American chestnut trees in Oxford County.
Following last year’s discovery in Hebron of the tallest American chestnut tree east of the Mississippi River, the American Chestnut Foundation asked the Oxford County Soil & Water Conservation District in Paris to find out if more of these rare trees are in the area.
“The foundation has believed for many years that pockets of these beautiful, historic trees still exist in and around this area of Maine,” Jean Federico of the Conservation District said in a recent statement. “These trees may still be in existence because they are in an area where the blight — which is carried by insects, animals and wind — is not present in sufficient quantity to affect them. They may be naturally resistant to the blight or they may even be in an area that the blight never got near. In any event, finding them is very important.”
The discovery of a 95-foot-tall American chestnut tree in Hebron last fall set off excitement nationwide. The tree, located on Ann Siekman and Roger Crockett’s property on Back Street, was discovered during the district’s annual Big Tree contest, which asks residents in the county to look for large trees of any specimen.
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, wiping out many. Glen Rea, president of the Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, said earlier this year 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 more than 200 mature American chestnut trees in Maine, and most of them are in mid-Maine,” Rea told the Sun Journal in January. He said the chances are great that there are many more American chestnut trees in the area.
Federico described the chestnut tree leaves as 5 to 8 inches long and 3 to 4 inches across, with wide-spaced saw-teeth on the edges. Federico said the best time to search for late-blooming American chestnut trees is early July.
According to information from Federico, “The blossoms are light yellow and form long panicles (catkins). As fall approaches, burs form and drop to the ground, creating winter forage for wildlife. The bur consists of a dense mass of long, slender spines that are painful to touch with bare hands. The chestnuts that are encased inside are one-half to one inch in diameter with pointed tips and come in groups of two or three nuts in each bur.”
For an identification sheet and more information, or to notify the district of the location of a chestnut tree, contact the Oxford County Soil & Water Conservation District at 743-5789, ext. 111, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.