Once the most common street tree in the northeastern United States, the American elm has become something of a rarity. This beloved native was almost wiped out by Dutch elm disease in the middle of the last century. One of the early victims of globalization, the elm was attacked by a foreign fungus: Dutch elm disease was carried to the U.S. by elm bark beetles in imported logs. The disease continues to destroy elms to this day. When you see a mature elm, it’s hard to know whether it has survived because it is disease-resistant or because it is lucky enough not to have been attacked.
An American elm is easily recognizable. Its doubly toothed leaves are unusual for being asymmetrical. The tree usually has a distinctive vase shape. The gentle undulation of its limbs as they reach for the sky gives the American elm a sinuous grace that is unmatched by any other tree. Those characteristics are exemplified by the elm at the Drake House Museum on West Front Street.
I have included photographs of every mature Plainfield elm that I know. I would be glad to hear about others. I am also on the lookout for dawn redwoods and for outstanding examples of white oaks and red maples (Acer rubrum).
Copyright Gregory Palermo