A century ago American chestnut trees dominated the eastern woodlands from Georgia to Maine. Growing straight and tall they were prized for timber. Wildlife depended on the nuts they provided every year.
People ate the chestnuts, too, scooping them up by the sackful every Fall. Then came an exotic blight accidentally introduced from Asia and the species was virtually wiped out.
That's why scientists are excited by a recent find in western Maine, a record-breaking find that is raising their hopes for the future.
The unusual discovery was made from the air. Dr. Brian Roth, a forest scientist with the University of Maine was surveying areas most likely to have habitat conditions favorable for chestnut trees and - voila! Flying over some woods in Lovell he saw a telltale sign.
"In July, when nothing else is blooming, this tree will have a large amount of white flowers in its crown," says Roth. "The 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 weeks that these were blooming and did find this tree."
This is not just any tree. This is an American chestnut tree worthy of the record books. And this week, a gaggle of reporters, photographers and members of the American Chestnut Foundation, trudged out on a rainy December day to see Brian Duigan of the Maine Forest Service confirm some crucial measurements.