This may be the last known photo of “Herbie” the tree, taken in Yarmouth in 2010. The 110-foot tree stood for more than 200 years before being taken down due to Dutch elm disease. A New Hampshire-based nonprofit is now selling cloned seedlings of the noted American Elm. Contributed / Jan Santerre

A New Hampshire-based nonprofit has found a way to resurrect the famous American Elm tree known locally as “Herbie,” felled in Yarmouth to the disappointment of many locals a decade ago.

The Liberty Tree Society, of Walpole, N.H., is now offering seedlings derived from Herbie’s DNA. The society, which takes its name from a Plymouth, Massachusetts, elm that is said to have been a meeting spot for colonists planning the American Revolution, has been working to preserve and clone elm trees since 1967.

Frank Knight, 100, former Yarmouth tree warden, stands next to the trunk of “Herbie,” a 100-foot American Elm, in 2010. Knight cared for the tree for more than 50 years before the tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease. Contributed / Jan Santerre

Yarmouth’s Herbie had a trunk that measured 244 inches around (6.5 feet in diameter), stood 110 feet tall and had a crown of branches spreading on average about 120 feet, earning its place in the Maine Register of Big Trees, according to Jan Santerre, urban forestry director for the Maine Forest Service.

“Herbie was big all around,” she said.

The tree was more than 200 years old when it fell victim to Dutch elm disease and had to be cut down in 2010.

Debra Hopkins, Yarmouth’s tree warden at the time, said local residents had become attached to Herbie, and the story captured the public’s imagination.


“It went everywhere, all over the country,” she said.

The Liberty Tree Society had been collecting cuttings, or stems and leaves, from Herbie as early as the 1990s, and managed to amass a collection of thousands of samples, said Chairman John Hansel.

“We’d been following Herbie’s life for many, many years,” he said.

So when the massive tree finally succumbed, Hansel said, the society got to work trying to reproduce Herbie from the samples.

Typically, Hansel said, the best way is to simply plant them, in a laboratory-controlled setting, and allow them to grow, but after years of trying with very few seedlings to show for it, Hansel said the society switched to grafting. Similar to a process used with fruit trees, a stem is inserted into a notch cut into another living plant, and sealed with wrappings.

In this case, Hansel said, the society is grafting stems from the Herbie seedlings they grew naturally onto root clusters from American elm tress from Oregon.


Dutch elm disease originally migrated from Asia to Europe, Santerre said, and is thought to have come to the U.S. through imported wooden furniture. It is the cause of a number of elm tree deaths, particularly along American streets. Cloning trees, she said, is not unusual, especially in the case of a robust or rare tree species.

“It’s the job of scientists to try to preserve that genome,” she said.

Hansel said the society still needs to build up more of a collection of breeding trees before it can sell Herbie-based seedlings in bulk, but people may buy them now individually from the society’s website, Prices are not listed, and Hansel could not say just how many had sold so far, but said, “We’re in the hundreds.”

When Herbie came down in 2010, the Portland Press-Herald interviewed Frank Knight, Hopkins’ predecessor, who had taken care of Herbie for more than 50 years.

“Of course I’m sad, but everything’s got to go, ” said Knight, 100, at the time. ”It’s pretty near my time, too. I’m just glad we had Herbie all these years.”

Knight died three years later, but Hopkins said this week that she had no doubt Knight would approve of the society’s work.

“He would be thrilled,” she said. “For him, it was such a wonderful relationship with that tree.”

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