The discovery of the tallest Chestnut tree left in North America may mean new hope for an iconic species nearly wiped out by disease.
Why this tree was able to survive for 100 years to become 115 feet tall, when billions of others died-off is the latest clue for activists and scientists who have been working for decades to save the species.
Ever since the accidental importation of an Asian virus in 1904, the American Chestnut, once abundant along the U.S. East Coast and Canada has become “functionally extinct” leaving ghostly gaps in the landscape.
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It’s believed this tree (pictured left, in the center), and other survivors, are immune to the disease and its DNA could help restore the species. Meanwhile, the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF) with its 6000 volunteers has supported a breeding program to develop a fungus-resistant tree that could be reintroduced to the wild.
ACF’s Lisa Thomson calls the discovery a “unique, unusual, and hopeful chance” of saving an entire species.
A team from the University of Maine, led by researcher Brian Roth, found the tree during an aerial search in July. Chestnuts flower at this time of year when no other trees do in Maine, so they’re easy to spot from the air when the brilliant, white blossoms bloom.
“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 told Maine Public Broadcasting.
Their find could let future generations one day witness a cathedral of blossoms like snow just as the “old-timers” did nearly a century ago. Support the work of ACF with a donation here.
(WATCH the video below from WMTW News) — Photos: WMTW video; Brian Roth, University of Maine