Thomaston Tree Warden Peter Lammert said it was an honor to count the rings on “Herbie,” a 212-year-old American elm tree.

The Yarmouth landmark was cut down Jan. 19 because it was afflicted with a systemic infection of Dutch elm disease. The tree stood on the corner of East Main Street and Yankee Drive.

Lammert, who works for the Maine Forest Service, said Feb. 2 that despite recounts of the rings, the count is still 212, the same number he reached when the tree was first cut down.

That means the tree dates back to 1798. The tree’s long life story is mapped out for researchers in its rings, and Lammert said they believe it grew in the wild for eight or nine years and was later transplanted to the spot where it would spend most of its time.

He said it was unlikely Gen. Henry Knox would have seen this particular tree in his travels, as Lammert had hoped prior to the count.

Lammert was designated the “official ring counter” by Yarmouth’s Herbie Project Committee, according to a press release from the Maine Department of Conservation.

He said the rings have been counted again and again, and a crack along the center has made the counting difficult. He said more finely tuned sanding and counting will take place as the investigation continues.

In fact, it is expected that a cross section of the trunk will be sent to the Maine Forest Service Bolton Hill facility off Route 3 about four miles toward Belfast from Augusta. Lammert said people will be able to go there and count the rings themselves.

He said another cross section, or what the Forest Service refers to as a “cookie,” will be sent to the Maine State Museum in Augusta and Lammert expects one will be kept in Yarmouth.

These may serve as an important scientific record. Lammert said he has been in e-mail contact with scientists who are interested in determining how old the tree was and what information may be stored in its rings about changes in the climate over the years.

“Herbie also has been made known to the National Institute of Statistical Sciences at Columbia University, where an assistant director of bioinformatics has been advised that cookies from the tree will be available for study,” the press release said.

Lammert said the tree was within 1,000 feet of a saltwater inlet and may have been in a warmer microclimate. As a result, it may not provide much information about the overall climate.

“Former Yarmouth Tree Warden Frank Knight, who has taken care of Yarmouth’s street trees since he was appointed by the selectmen in 1956, had estimated Herbie’s age to be roughly 235 years, based on the ring count of a sister elm removed in the 1980s,” the press release said. “Knight, 101, retired from his post as tree warden two years ago but remains actively engaged in the management of Yarmouth’s trees.”

“Frank worked 53 years on that tree,” Lammert said. “That’s a record in anybody’s book.”

Dutch elm disease is a fungus spread by elm bark beetles. They can fly a maximum of 700 feet from one tree to another. When the disease gets into the vascular system of a tree, the plant shuts off the water supply to the infected branch, and the leaves turn yellow on that limb, Lammert said. That’s a sign that the tree has a problem and if those branches are removed, the disease can sometimes be prevented from infecting the tree as a whole.

Knight saw Herbie through 14 bouts of the disease over the course of half a century.

The butt log from the tree and the bottoms of its seven major branches weighed 39,900 pounds, Lammert said.

Lammert helped the committee hire a sawmill that could both saw and dry the lumber from the elm’s seven main branches.

“Woodworkers and crafters throughout the United States already have placed orders for the many different types of lumber that will be produced at the sawmill, and some preliminary products already have been made from the wood,” the press release said. “Artists have captured Herbie’s statuesque form in photos and woodcuts, and authors have come forward hoping to capture the story for a children’s book.”

Among the products being sold will be ornamental medallions or cookies, cutting boards and bookmarks.

All proceeds will support the formation of the Yarmouth Tree Trust, which will forever endow the planting and care of Yarmouth’s future champion trees.

For more information, see the town of Yarmouth Web site: YarmouthCommunityServices.org/Herbie.html

About Lammert

Lammert said his love of trees started when he was about 8 years old. His neighbor’s brother ran a tree-care company and had four bucket trucks. Lammert said he started riding along with them on Saturdays.

“I was up in a bucket truck, 50 feet in the air and said to myself, ‘hey, this is the way to get up in the world,'” Lammert said.

When he was a boy, his father taught him how to properly plant trees.

Lammert graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1968 with a degree in forestry. He worked in a sawmill for a time and received a letter in 1975 telling him he had a job with the Maine Forest Service.

He remembers helping replant the trees in Thomaston. In 1978, the entire senior class of the high school was let out to help with the tree planting, he said.

Lammert later became a licensed arborist.

He serves as Thomaston’s municipal tree warden.