HEBRON — A Maine forester has measured what is believed to be the tallest American chestnut tree in its native range.
The 95-foot tree is in some woodlands in this small town in southwestern Maine. There is no official record keeping, but officials with The American Chestnut Foundation say the Maine tree is thought to be the tallest from Maine to Mississippi.
Ann Siekman said she and her husband knew they had a tall chestnut on their property, but they had no idea it would be the tallest in the East.
“I personally am a tree lover, so it’s very important to me that all of us be aware of our tree heritage,” she said. “For that reason, I’m delighted it’s getting some attention.”
Once known as the redwood of the East, the American chestnut was one of the most dominant trees in the eastern United States, routinely growing as tall as 100 feet and measuring 5 feet across at the base. But a blight overtook the trees during the first half of the 1900s, wiping out the population by the 1950s.
The American Chestnut Foundation, an Asheville, N.C.-based conservation organization devoted to restoring chestnuts to eastern woodlands, has regional offices that keep unofficial tabs on the trees. The Maine chestnut is the tallest that anybody with the foundation is aware of.
“Most of the bigger chestnuts we come across tend to top out around 70, 75 and maybe 80 feet,” said Kendra Gurney, the foundation’s regional science coordinator in Burlington, Vt.
Chestnuts tend to grow tallest when they’re crowded among other large trees and need to grow straight up in search of sun. Maine, the nation’s most heavily forested state, has plenty of oaks that grow higher than 100 feet and pines that can reach 150 feet.
The chestnut in Hebron is hidden from public view in some back woods among oaks, beeches and maples. Although people have known about it for years, it wasn’t officially measured until this fall when Maine Forest Service forester Merle Ring took its dimensions as part of a countywide big tree contest sponsored by the Oxford County Soil & Water Conservation District.
Ring and Michele Windsor, from the conservation district, re-measured the tree Wednesday to confirm the earlier measurement.
Such measurements are done using the principles of trigonometry and a simple, handheld instrument called a clinometer. Standing 100 feet from the tree, Ring used the clinometer to measure the angles to the top and bottom of the tree before calculating the height using the angle measurements.
There are large American chestnut trees in the West, but those were planted by settlers and are outside both the tree’s native range and the blight that wiped out the trees last century.