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Burlington children spot rare tree - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington children spot rare tree

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Wednesday mornings for kindergarteners and first-graders at C.P. Smith School in Burlington start outdoors, walking down the street and into the woods across from the school. Then they're turned loose to explore and follow their curiosity.

It doesn't take them long to spot spiky brown burrs among the snow on the forest floor.

"They don't feel like anything," said Elena Fuller, a first-grader.

"That might be because your hands are numb," first-grade teacher Shelley Spinner said.

"Nooo!" Fuller said.

The burrs are from an American chestnut tree, a find from a C.P. Smith student last summer.

"We brought it back to the classroom and that began about a week's worth of research where we were trying to identify what it was," Spinner said.

They learned that the American chestnut tree is rare, with most of them wiped out by a fungus. Without student curiosity, this one might have gone unnoticed.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What do you think was inside there?

Sophia Batchelder, First-Grader: The little seed of the chestnut.

Teachers Adam Deyo and Shelley Spinner decided to use this as a teaching opportunity, encouraging students to touch and feel the burrs.

"When you open it up, it's soft inside," said Ellis Duke, a first-grader.

As it turned out, not only was this tree a good find, it also led to an award for the students. At an assembly Friday morning, students were told their tree earned the "Best Tree" award from Branch Out Burlington's annual contest to find the greatest tree in the city. And the student who found the first burr, second-grader Adrienne Stanley, was recognized.

"I was kind of just walking and I found it," she said. "So then I brought it over to my teacher and she said, 'I don't know what that is' because I had asked her, 'What is that?'"

Burlington arborist Brian Sullivan said they also found a couple smaller chestnut trees right next to the one in the Ethan Allen woods.

"This tree either has a natural resistance to the fungus that kills the chestnut trees or the fungus hasn't made it to this tree yet," Sullivan said.

And thanks to these students' observant eyes, they can now study it to learn more.

The American Chestnut Foundation is trying to develop a resistant American chestnut. Burlington plans to contact them about this tree so they can come look at it.

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