Tallest American chestnut tree in North America discovered in Lovell, Maine

Foresters with the Maine Forest Service and the University of Maine have measured what is believed to be the tallest American chestnut, Castanea dentata, tree in North America, exceeding the height of the next-tallest known tree by a full 20 feet.

The 115-foot-tall tree is growing in a reserved forest in Lovell, Maine on land bequeathed to the University of Maine Foundation. The Volk family owned the property for more than 100 years prior to donating it to the foundation. Douglas Volk (1856–1935) was a famous American portrait and landscape painter.

The discovery of this tree is significant, as the species has been ravaged by an invasive blight. It is estimated that there are only a few dozen large surviving trees.

The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is a nonprofit conservation organization working to restore the American chestnut species to its native range — the eastern woodlands of the U.S. Using a backcross breeding process, TACF is racing to discover what few remaining native American chestnut trees still exist in an effort to conserve the genetics, and to learn about the soils and forest conditions in which they are growing.

The Maine Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation has partnered with the Barbara Wheatland Geospatial Analysis Laboratory at the University of Maine to use remote sensing from airplanes to help locate unknown trees.

An official measurement of the tree will take place Dec. 2. Expected to be on hand are TACF President and CEO Lisa Thomson, TACF geneticist Jared Westbrook, UMaine forest scientist Brian Roth, along with representatives from the Maine Forest Service and the University of Maine Foundation.

Once the mighty giants of the eastern forest, American chestnut trees grew up to 100 feet tall and numbered in the billions. From Maine to Georgia, the tree was a vital component of eastern forests, providing abundant food for wildlife and serving as an economic staple for humans.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the fungal pathogen responsible for chestnut blight was accidentally imported into the U.S. from Asia and spread rapidly. By 1950, the fungus had eliminated the American chestnut as a mature forest tree.

In 1983, a committed group of scientists and volunteers decided to do something about this ecological disaster while the species could still be saved. They formed The American Chestnut Foundation and initiated a complex breeding program to transfer genes containing disease resistance from Asian chestnut species to American chestnut. In just 20 years, they began to produce the first generation of trees that are 96 percent American chestnut and contain Asiatic genes for blight resistance.

Now supported by more than 5,000 members and hundreds of volunteers in 23 states, the organization is planting and testing offspring of those trees in an effort to build and improve the breeding population. With the aid of many partner organizations, TACF is leading the restoration of an iconic species once on the brink of extinction.

The American Chestnut Foundation is headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina, with three regional offices located in Charlottesville, Virginia, South Burlington, Vermont, and State College, Pennsylvania. The organization’s research farm in Meadowview, Virginia has more than 50,000 trees planted in various stages of development.