Here is some reader mail on Sunday’s column in The Baltimore Sun about the rare American elm I discovered in my neighborhood.

Always like to see an Elm get it’s due. There are some stupendous Elms on the North East side of town. There is one on Harford Road at Kentucky Avenue that has some bus or truck scars that show how resilient a tree can be. There had been a great one at Herring Run park that had branches that reached down the hill and gave it a giant presence. Alas, this suffered the indignity of removal for the bridge re-build currently underway on Harford Road. All of the elms that used to border Liberty Heights Ave. through Ashbourton were lost during the 60’s and 70’s, last century. There were some mighty elms in that grouping. The elm is a great tree and thanks for noting their presence for the at-large reading population.
Peter Van de Castle

Nice to see your article about the American elm today.  Readers need to see lots more about trees.  Genuine American elms are available for planting (although this may be more theoretical than real considering how difficult it is to find retailers that sell climax growth trees).  I planted a Princeton elm on my front lawn in 2013 and it is growing nicely.  Still has a long way to go of course.  This one has the longest history having been developed in the 1920’s and the original trees in Princeton New Jersey still survive to the best of my knowledge.  There were very nice photos of the original ones on the internet a few years ago looking a lot like your find.  The city plants Valley Forge elms, similar with a track record dating to the 1990’s.  You can see these around.  I know there are some on the Northern Parkway median strip not far west of Old Harford Road.  The third type is the Liberty elm from the Elm Research Institute of New Hampshire.  This was developed I believe around the 1960’s and I helped arrange the planting of a large number of these on a median of Wabash Avenue paralleling the elevated subway in 1981.  These have disappointed I think perhaps because the soil there is probably terrible.  I should have opted for the city’s other option of St. Lo Drive in Clifton Park but I thought that the totally denuded Wabash site would provide greater contrast than the already better looking St. Lo Drive, but such is hindsight. 

The best looking of the Liberties that I have seen is in my own neighborhood of Original Northwood at 1250 Northview Road.  Ironically this tree has competition from an already mature tree and is getting to be good size, planted about 1981 also.  I really think that the greater the competition among trees, the faster they reach upwards, which is where we need them to be.  All three of these genuine American elms have one thing in common.  They are survivors like the one you saw and it has been found that surviving this long means that in these few exceptional elms, DED (Dutch elm disease) does not become systemic, as the tree cuts off the travel of the fungus before it destroys the tree.  So these elms are referred to as “disease resistant” elms.  They can get the disease but it will not kill them or harm them very much. 

This is the same with the Asian elms such as the Siberian elm.  But the Siberian elm while it is very nice is not nearly as nice as the American elm.  You can see some of these on Cranbrook Road in Cockeysville across from the shopping center with Simon’s bakery and Pappas restaurant.  The reason we should be promulgating these elms is because of their tremendous size in all directions that way outstrips other large trees like oaks that tend to have a single trunk with smaller branches.  Elms like some of the better silver maples send up tremendous branches off the main trunk and the result after a century or so is to have about five trees in one.  They can provide extraordinary shade and you can imagine the unbelievable loss to the U.S. with the DED plague taking endless millions of trees coast to coast.  We have not even begun to emerge from that!

 I have long taken issue with Erik Dihle concerning the city’s tree canopy.  Do you remember the heavily wooded Liberty Heights corridor from the 1960’s — endless trees on the way out to Gwynn Oak?  Or the very nicely shaded Hamilton neighborhoods?  Shockingly you can go through these areas and more and count the number of trees on your fingers.  I have also been shocked by much of Guilford and Roland Park.  Happily, Homeland which has suffered even worse has been replacing their lost trees for decades and they are getting a better tree cover now even though they could be doing more planting in their backyards.  But the situation gets depressingly worse. 

Ash trees are gone.  Now Ambrosia beetles are infecting oaks in Catonsville and my own neighborhood of Original Northwood.  Judge Anselm Sodaro who built the house across the street from me carefully left 17 oaks on his property of inestimable value.  The decline in recent years has left that property with only one oak!  It is a scrawny chestnut oak which the Ambrosians probably thought too skimpy to bother with.  What a loss!  Look at books on Baltimore streetcars.  Good way to see trees of Baltimore up to 1963.  Why?  Because these pictures were not just taken of the usual landmarks but on generally unphotographed Baltimore streets, wherever the photographer could find street cars which were in a lot of locations.  You will not recognize the city, partly because of architecture but mostly because of the ever present TREES in these photographs now long gone. 

 We need not only to plant new trees but to plant them well.  Have you ever planted a tree?  You have to get down on your knees.  They don’t.  Believe me, I know.  I use an old kneeler my mother had which has printed on the top: 

“Oh Adam was a gardener and God who made him sees that half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees.” 

–Rudyard Kipling. 

When trees are poorly planted, not watered, not fertilized, not pruned of low branches in early years, etc., etc., then trees do not grow.  Easy to understand, but there is nothing but silence on the subject.  Worse, TV news models convince people not to fertilize because it is bad for the environment!  Far too broad a statement!  Mature trees can take up 80 gallons of water each day and they need lots of food to go along with it in a non-forested environment–no humus.  This tree fertilizer will not run into the bay but will be utilized fully by the tree and the irony is that the starved dying trees are going to make it much harder to clean up the bay.  So there has to be reasonability here.  Yes there is lots of work to be done before we can be looking at any 40% tree canopy in Baltimore City.  Lots, lots!

  You can help by printing lots more about trees and getting on these people’s butts about proper performance.

 Joe Clisham, former chairman, Baltimore City Forestry Board

One thought on “Letters: About the rare American elm trees, and where to find some that survive

  1. There grows two magnificent American Elms in Marble Hill. Both stand next to eachother. The larger, The Cummings Elm, was planted in the yard of Harry Sythe Cummings at 1318 Druid Hill Avenue, for his son, Harry Jr.s 7th birthday. That would make this elm over 125 years old-middle age for an elm. It shades the yards of 7 houses with its canopy spread. The other is an offspring of The Cummings Elm, which Harry gave to a neighbor before his death. It stands in the middle of vacant lots that have been a community space for many years.
    In 2017, the City BOE, lead by Joan Pratt, gifted the lots to Bethel Ame Church. The church now owns the lots, and plans to cut down the tree to construct a fenced parking lot for the church’s exclusive use.
    Both Elms have been nominated as the grand champion American Elm of Baltimore City.
    One of them may be gone very soon, to a congregation of insensitive people who have no regard for the history, the beauty, or the significance of these magical and rare trees.


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