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Rare American Chestnut Found in Maine Forest

Dec 18, 2015 04:02 PM EST

American chestnuts have been endangered since the 1950s, after the onrush of the blight fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, which was accidentally introduced in the late 19th century from Asia. By 1950, more than nine million acres of eastern forests had vanished.

In fact, when we see (and smell) chestnuts being roasted by street vendors in major American cities, those are European chestnuts, not American ones.

That's why it was exciting when researchers recently spotted a very tall American chestnut surrounded by tall pines in a forest near Lovell, Maine, as a piece on NPR recently reported.

They found the tree while doing an aerial survey, looking specifically for the white-flowered top that indicates a chestnut tree at a certain time of the year.

The scientists, including Brian Roth, a forest scientist with the University of Maine, were basing their methods on stories told by those who remember American chestnuts in forests: "Old-timers talk about the hillsides in the Appalachian Mountains being covered in flowers as if it was snow, and so we were able to key in on the particular week that these were blooming and...find this tree," Roth said, according to the NPR piece.

The tree they found near Lovell, which was blooming alone in the forest, is around 100 years old and about 115 feet tall. This makes it the tallest known American chestnut in America, Roth said in the piece.

DNA from this remarkable tree will be preserved in a living gene bank, as part of an effort by the American Chestnut Foundation, Roth noted in the broadcast.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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