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Splendid Specimens

On the Cape and Islands, towering ancient trees are rooted in fascinating stories.

towering ancient trees

Photo by Anthony Dispezio

Native trees like pitch pine and scrub oak are well recognized on Cape Cod and the Islands as hallmarks of our coastal landscape, providing a line of defense against the punishing winds and insatiable tides that try ceaselessly to claim our seaside world.

But in this coastal region known more for its beaches than its trees, there are also some exotic specimens steeped in history that link the present and the past through tales of sea captains, adventurers, philanthropists, and merchants.

visitors flock to Truro Vineyards to tour the working five-acre farm owned by the Roberts family and sample a range of crowd-pleasing varietal wines. But for some the real star is the massive Chinese Mulberry tree to the right of the main house that is believed to be the oldest fruiting tree in New England. People ask more questions about the striking Asian giant sticking out of the stark Lower Cape landscape than they do the wine, says co-owner Kristen Roberts.

As the story goes, Captain Atkins Hughes brought the mulberry back from China in 1830—along with a collection of silkworms and high hopes of gearing up a silk business. The silkworms, though, didn’t thrive on the trip, and Hughes gave the property to his daughter Abigail Rich and her husband, Michael, a farmer. Years later, the artist Edward Hopper memorialized the statuesque tree in his 1930 painting Rich’s Farm. Even then it was enormous. “This is truly one of the biggest trees I’ve seen outside of the redwoods,’’ Roberts says. “The arborist who comes to take care of it treats it like his child.”

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