Mystery trees - Study looks to uncover what killed Atlantic White Cedar trees on the St. Jones River

Atlantic White Cedar trees were once prominent on the East Coast of the United States. Previously known as green cypress, Atlantic White Cedar trees were such a presence in Delaware that they lent their names to roads — such as Cypress Bridge Road in Kent County — and sections of river — such as the Cypress Branch, a small tributary of the St. Jones River.

Today, however, due to a combination of natural processes and sea-level rise, as well as logging and other human activities, less than one fourth of Delaware’s Atlantic White Cedar Trees that stood in 1972 remain. In that particular stretch of the St. Jones River to which they gave their name, only two or three living Atlantic White Cedar trees still stand.

It is unknown exactly how these trees perished, but a new study involving researchers at Wesley College and the University of Delaware tried to determine if the mystery could be unraveled —investigating exactly when the trees died and if the dredging and straightening of the St. Jones River early in the 1900s hastened the process.

Stephanie Stotts, associate professor of environmental studies at Wesley College who earned her doctorate in geography from the UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment (CEOE), was the lead author on the paper. Co-authors included John Callahan, an associate scientist with the Delaware Geological Survey who earned his doctorate in climatology from the UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, and Olivia Gulledge, a graduate student researcher at Wesley College and an environmental specialist with the Maryland Environmental Service.

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