LOVELL, Maine — The tallest chestnut tree in North America has been discovered in a small Maine town near the New Hampshire border, and the American Chestnut Foundation expects to make the measurement official Wednesday.
At 115 feet in height, it’s believed to be a full 20 feet taller than its next closest known competitor.
The tree is growing in reserved forest in Lovell, an Oxford County town of about 1,140 residents. The forested area is owned by the University of Maine Foundation, donated by the family of Douglas Volk, a portrait and land landscape painter who lived from 1856 to 1935.
Researchers found the tree last summer during a flyover looking for signs of big trees.
Brian Roth of the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources said Friday that researchers spotted the tell-tale white flowers that emerge in the canopies of chestnut trees around July.
They marked the chestnut’s coordinates and went back into the woods on the ground with members of the UMaine Geographic Information System and Mapping Club to find the tree and take unofficial measurements.
Trees of this size in the species are unusual, with just a few dozen large surviving trees left in Maine. Chestnuts this large were once common from Maine to Georgia, but in the early 1900s a fungal pathogen found its way from Asia, and blight ravaged the species, according to the North Carolina-based American Chestnut Foundation.
The foundation formed in 1983 in an effort to stop the blight and restore the species by studying the genetics of the strongest trees and breeding them to create chestnuts that are resistant to the fungus.
Roth said the American chestnut in Maine does best in the southern part of the state, where the climate is warmer. The trees also grow best on drier areas, such as ridges. Researchers also take great interest in the types of soils that grow strong trees.
On Wednesday, officials from the American Chestnut Foundation, the Maine Forest Service, UMaine and other groups will travel to the tree to take official measurements.
Later that day, the group will host a 5:30 p.m. dinner, followed by lectures at 7 p.m. at the Sheepscot General Store, 98 Townhouse Road in Whitefield. Tickets for the dinner are $25, but the lectures are free. Jared Westbrook, a geneticist with the American Chestnut Foundation, will discuss tree breeding and blight resistance, and Roth will talk about efforts to restore chestnut populations in Maine.
The tree isn’t expected to take home the title of the largest chestnut in North America.
“There are other trees that are quite a bit shorter, but they’re bigger around, so they take the prize for biggest,” Roth said.
The world’s largest American chestnut tree was actually grown in Belgium and stands about 120 feet tall and 11 feet around.
This isn’t the first major national recognition something in Lovell has received.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.