Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Survivor in the Garden

We all know the fate of the American elm. Once upon a time, residential streets in cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest were lined with elm trees, and ordinary neighborhoods were made stately and elegant by the trees whose branches formed a green arch high over the roadway.

Photo credit Joseph O'Brien/USDA Forest Service
Alas, Dutch elm disease all but wiped out the American elm and altered the way trees are planted in cities, eliminating forever the beauty created by the uniformity of trees in streetscapes. Here and there in Hudson, however, there are American elms that survived the blight of Dutch elm disease, some only to succumb in more recent years to a disease called elm phloem necrosis, also known as "elm yellows."

Two survivors of the epidemic of Dutch elm disease--and so far resisting elm yellows--are in the community garden at Columbia and Second streets, both in the part of the garden that will continue as a garden. One of them--the larger one--has been identified as a particularly good example of healthy survivor.

Photo credit Timothy O'Connor
Gossips has learned that this elm tree has a chance to become a very important tree. The USDA Forest Service has a program to develop a large group of naturally occurring American elms that are tolerant to Dutch elm disease. To this end, they are cloning healthy elms. So far, the USDA has identified eight trees they want to clone. The elm in the community garden could be the ninth, making this tree that grows in Hudson a very important tree indeed.

There's a downside though. Small clippings from the tree would have to be taken at the beginning of March, when the tree is starting to bud, and submitted to the program. The problem is that trimming the tree at this point would cause the tree to emit a scent that could attract the elm bark beetle that carries the fungus that causes Dutch elm disease. Given the risk, no decision has been made on whether or not to pursue the idea of cloning the tree.

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