Old Elm Was at Least 50 Years Old

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Earlier this month, GM noticed that one of the grand American elms on Q St. was dead. Shortly afterwards, the city came and cut the tree down, hopefully preventing any cross-infection with its neighbors.

GM was curious, so he swung by and counted the tree rings. He’s no expert, but it appeared that there were at least fifty rings. A poke around the Internet suggests that an American elm of that size could indeed by only that old.

American elms were incredibly popular street trees before the dreaded Dutch elm disease started to spread after arriving on these shores in the 1930s. They were chosen both because of the amazing arching canopy mature elms create, but also their rapid growth.

It’s that second trait that gives hope. Over the years, several cultivars of American elms have been identified that are resistant to Dutch elm disease. Arborists have enough faith in the new variants that they are aggressively planting new generations of American elms to replace those that are still dying off.

So it’s heartening that it only took 50 years for this Q St. tree to go from seedling to forty some-odd feet tall. Sure, fifty years is a long time, but trees are a compact between generations. We enjoy the foresight and efforts of our grandparent’s generation, and we strive to have that same foresight and determination so our grandchildren can stroll underneath giants. And fifty years is nothing when you’re talking generations.

And fifty years can get here faster than you realize. In 2005, the National Parks Service planted 88 American elms (of the Princeton elm cultivar) on Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the White House. They were already five years old at that point and it’s been eight years since. So we’re already a quarter of the way there! In just a few decades, these sentinels will be begin to stretch out and thatch together a remarkable canopy. Here is the row of American elms in Princeton from which these trees derive:

These trees are only 75 years old. We can build this in a lifetime.

Of course, not all street trees are (or should be) American elms. Chances are you’ve got a young tree recently planted on your block. Please, give it a chance! Make sure it’s watered, either by you or a neighbor! We must remain true to our inter-generational compact.

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