Q St. in Georgetown is blessed with a rare collection of beautiful mature American elm trees. The group miraculously survived the Dutch elms disease epidemic, and stands as a virtual museum to how streets across this country used to look. But while it was not devastated by the disease, it still is touched by it. And so we still occasionally lose one of these giants every so often. And this month we lost a lovely one.
The tree stood at the northeast corner of Q st. and 31st St. It was just next to Nancy Taylor Bubes’ house (famous for her elaborate Halloween decorations) and across the street from the apartment building where John Denver wrote “Take Me Home Country Roads”.
Of course, the location was not really what made this tree so grand. It was a massive elm, displaying all the traits that made this species so popular in the first place. It had a huge cascading vase-like shape that bathed a huge swath of that intersection in cooling shade. Branches shooting off from the trunk were themselves as massive as the mature trunks of other trees. It was stunning.
But last fall it started to show signs of illness, with multiple dead branches. And it got worse this spring. With other species, the city perhaps would cut back the dead branches and try to get some more years out of the tree. But with American elms, it’s best to cut them down fast to prevent spreading the disease.
Hopefully the city will plant a new American elm in its place. New cultivars of the species, like the Princeton elm, have shown resistance to Dutch elms disease and have been planted around the country in an attempt to revive the tree’s place in cities and towns. As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best is today. That’s especially true if today’s the day you cut down another tree. (Although, this is more metaphorically than literally true. July is a terrible time to plant a tree! The city will likely wait till the fall at the earliest.)
RIP, you lovely tree.