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Deep in the southern Delaware woods, along the trails of Ponders Tract near Milton, sits a majestic sight. The largest Atlantic white cedar tree in the state stands tall and straight, with a flaky, grayish-brown trunk. Its impressive canopy reaches high, adorned with lush evergreen foliage, creating a captivating presence in the heart of the swamp.
The tree was recently discovered by Natasha Whetzel on one of her regular visits to Ponders Tract as she explores the landscape and measures water levels in her role as stewardship program manager for the Nature Conservancy. Those visits also include keeping an eye out for diverse plant species.
“I had kind of known about these two larger Atlantic white cedars on our property for a few years, but I had never really reached out to anybody to confirm them being potentially the largest in the state,” she said. “I found these along our Piney Branch at our Ponders Tract Trail system, part of our Pemberton Forest Preserve. Essentially, every year I like to see what kind of plants we have growing and walking along the branch. Suddenly, I kind of was struck when I came across two very large ones.”
Discovering Delaware’s largest Atlantic White Cedar tree in the secluded Ponders Track woods highlights its rarity, especially since it was cut and logged in the 1700s.
— Johnny Perez (@johnnyperez__) February 1, 2024
Stunned by the sheer size of the tree known to scientists as Chamaecyparis thyoides, Whetzel couldn’t quite grasp its magnitude. To better understand, she called upon Bill McAvoy, a botanist with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.