I grew up in the shade of elm trees that arched magnificently across the suburban street where I lived as a young boy. Then, one by one they began to die.
By the early 1970s only their bare bones remained.
In the 1920s the fungus that killed those elms arrived in North America. Carried by elm bark beetles this fungal scourge swept across the eastern half of the continent, laying waste to millions of elms.
If you know the locations of other mature elms that grace our hills Don would love to know about them. Send Don an e-mail.
Elm trees are still with us though. Young trees sprout vigorously along streams and rivers. Others grow along fence rows alongside ash, maple and basswood. Few, however, live long enough to attain the gracious majesty of yesteryear.
Most are struck down long before they spread their branches in the iconic umbrella form. The few that do attain this lovely shape are solitary trees, gripping roadside verges or standing sentinel in agricultural fields.
The survival of these loners is not likely due to some inherent resistance to the fungus. Isolation is probably their salvation. They simply haven’t been discovered by the bark beetles.
When a tree species disappears, or declines dramatically as with the elm, the result is not only tragic for the species, but for the ecosystem with which it is intertwined. Every native tree supports a suite of insects that in turn feed birds and small mammals.
Some of these insects are host-specific. This means that they depend solely on a particular tree for survival. So the passing of a species of tree, while tragic in its own right, ripples outwards to diminish the health of entire ecosystems.
Will our elms ever reclaim their former glory? The University of Guelph and other institutions have been investigating and breeding elms that may be resistant to the fungi. Elm trees that may have some resistance are now available.
Update: Name the Fish Contest
Don’s blog on brook trout last month included a contest asking readers to identify a species of fish that lives in the coldwater streams frequented by trout. While two guesses were submitted, neither was correct. The answer is “sculpin”. There are two species of sculpin in our area. Both are small, bottom-dwelling fish with oversized heads.
Two years ago I gasped when I discovered that a magnificent elm growing in Glen Williams had been cut down. I had admired this tree for decades. It was huge, with leafy branches reaching clear across Confederation Street in this village. Perhaps it was diseased. If not, its removal was a terrible, thoughtless mistake.
Pause a moment to marvel at the glory of the few large elms that remain in our hills. They are natural treasures and touchstones for a rural landscape that may someday be reclaimed.
A Challenge: Name This Tree
Sadly the story of introduced pathogens decimating native trees is far from over.
Along with his photos of elm trees Don has included a photo of another species of tree (at right) that may be next in line for destruction.
THE CHALLENGE: Identify this species of tree correctly.
THE PRIZE: Your choice of any photo published on Don’s blog
# OF WINNERS: The prize will be awarded to two (2) readers who identify the tree correctly.
HOW TO ENTER: Write your answer in the comment box below.