HEBRON — This summer, an American chestnut tree in Hebron has left many in wonder, thinking about the tree’s significance.

Located on Ann Siekman and Roger Crockett’s property on Back Street, the tree, which has been in full glorious bloom, has often turned heads not only because it is “very beautiful,” Siekman said, but because of its size. It’s considered to be the biggest in Maine and one of the biggest in the country.

“The Hebron American chestnut was originally measured in 2012 and found to be the tallest in Maine at 95 feet tall,” Michele Windsor, the district and project manager at the Oxford County Soil & Water Conservation District, said. “It was most recently remeasured in 2020 and was found to have grown to 114 feet tall.”

As of 2020, the tree has grown 19 feet taller, 6 inches fatter, and an additional 3.5 inches in crown spread since its last measurement. Its circumference was 84 inches (with a diameter of 2.2 feet) and its crown spread is 60 feet.

Windsor said that in 2020 the tree was, and still is, the “largest American chestnut in Maine” based on a point system used to determine overall tree size.

Trees are rated by a combination of trunk circumference, height, and average crown spread, with points given for each. When added together, the Hebron tree has more points than any other known American chestnut in Maine.

Officials overseeing the Maine Register of Big Trees have not formally named the Hebron tree Maine’s largest, however, because a tree almost as large in Orono is within 10 points of the Hebron tree.

Jan Ames Santerre, the project canopy coordinator at the Maine Forest Service, noted that the Hebron tree is officially “listed as a co-champion on Maine’s Register of Big Trees (for an American chestnut), along with a tree in Orono, though the Hebron tree does have a few more points than the Orono tree.”

Because the Orono tree is “not in good condition,” according to Santerre, the Hebron tree is likely to distance itself in size and status from the Orono tree in the near future.

Roger Crockett stands next an American chestnut tree on Thursday on his property in Hebron. The tree is thought to be one of the biggest in the country. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“The tree in Orono has been on the champion list for a long time, first nominated in 1980,” Santerre said. “The Hebron tree is a more recent find, and was first officially listed on the state register in 2020. Though we’ve known about the tree for a few years, there had not been a new list published.”

The Orono tree is affected by blight, an infection that has harmed American chestnut trees in forests around the world for more than a century. The Hebron tree does not seem to be affected by blight.

“It’s very large, very healthy,” Windsor said. “It’s very unusual to find an American chestnut that healthy because of the blight. The blight usually takes them down before they get anywhere near that height. It’s just a beautiful tree.”

Windsor compared the Hebron tree to another large American chestnut tree in Lovell.

“I was actually more impressed with the health and the vigor of (the Hebron) tree than the one that we found in Lovell. The one that we found in Lovell is a little less in circumference. … Again, it’s just really rare to find these trees anymore because they do succumb to this blight, which is a fungus type of infection that still circulates today,” she said.

Windsor said there is debate about the height of the Lovell tree.

“The Lovell tree has far fewer points so it’s not the largest using the point standard,” she said. “I’ve seen it and I don’t think it’s 115 feet. It looks more like 80-90 feet to me. It’s so close to other trees that the reading on the measuring device could have been in error. We removed it from our Big Tree Registry because the total points of the Lovell tree didn’t come close to the Hebron tree.”

The Lovell tree is also considered very healthy, and has a reputation for being very impressive as well. It lives in a reserved forest in the town of Lovell, on land bequeathed to the University of Maine Foundation.

“We’re just lucky to have two really good specimens of the (American) chestnut tree here in Oxford County,” Windsor said. “We think that it’s the nature of the location: Both of them had a very nice, dry, sort of like a hillside location where they maybe didn’t get the moisture. And they’re also very surrounded by other tall trees around them that protected them maybe from wind that may carry the spores of that particular fungus. It’s very hard to know exactly why certain trees seem to be resistant.”

Siekman is also unsure why the tree is blight-resistant.

When she and Crockett bought the property in 2007, they knew the tree was there and noticed that “people could see it from all over.”

“It’s pretty nice to have this very special tree that’s very old, all by itself on your property,” Siekman said. “(There are) no other trees like it on our property. It’s the only one. It rises above all the trees around it, and when it is in bloom, people can see it from different locations.

“We care for it in that we hope that nothing happens to it,” she said. “It’s part of a forest, and we take care of the forest on our land as well as the tree. We protect it as much as a person can,” she said.

Ann Siekman holds the spiny shell of an American chestnut seed in Hebron. The American chestnut tree produces chestnuts that are edible to humans, as opposed to the horse chestnut tree’s toxic chestnuts. Anna Gouveia/Sun Journal


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