We love community…and Elms, and snow, and lights!

10, Feb, 2010 Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy

On this week before Valentine’s Day, the Conservancy would like to show a little love! We love communities–and yes, even community process which helped build this marvelous and diverse system of parks – and we love horticulture. This Thursday from 5-6 pm we’ll celebrate both at a ceremonial tree lighting in the North End Parks as we turn on the last element of Bright Lights for Winter Nights.

Join us and our North End neighbors for this free event with performances by New England Performing Arts Center, goodies from North End business owners (including George Mendoza and the Mendoza family of Monica’s Restaurant, Nick Verano of Nick Verano’s Famous Deli, Carla Gomes of Antico Forno), brief remarks by community leaders (Felix Arroyo, Sal LaMattina and Aaron Michlewitz) and a snowman making contest. (Mother Nature is bringing the snow! We’ll provide the eyes, hat and pipes.)

Why the Elm?

Did we already say we love horticulture? The Conservancy horticultural team cherishes the American Elm Tree in the North End Parks, the largest tree on the Greenway. We decided to wrap it in white LED string lights (sort of like a million hugs) to bring attention to this symbolic tree.

The American Elm was once considered to be the perfect street tree. Not only was it a fast-growing, attractive tree with a spreading vase-shaped habit and an open crown, but it proved hardy in urban areas and required little care. The people of Massachusetts were so enamored by it that they made it their state tree, a distinction it still holds today.

Unfortunately, the era of the American Elm as a primary urban planting came to a rapid close beginning in the 1930s when a shipment of European Elm burl logs to the United States containing a population of Elm Bark Beetles carrying the fungus Ceratocystis ulmi introduced the condition of Dutch Elm Disease. (When Ceratocystis ulmi enters the tree, it clogs the vascular tissue, preventing the movement of water and the eventual wilting and death of the tree).

Dutch Elm Disease spread so rapidly throughout the United States that many thought the American Elm was heading for extinction. Thankfully, due to improvements in disease treatment, pest management and the development of Dutch Elm Disease resistant cultivars, it is possible for this historic and spectacular tree to continue to play a role in the urban landscape.  Our specimen American Elm is an Ulmus Americana ‘Washington’ (or “Washington” American Elm), and is one of the earlier Dutch Elm Disease-resistant cultivars developed.

Although it is a disease-resistant cultivar, the American Elm in the North End Parks is not without maintenance and health concerns. Tree roots were damaged during transplanting and are struggling to recover (as is common with a tree this size), the tree is experiencing significant compaction around the root zone, and it is being damaged by sap suckers during their migration through Boston. We are working to minimize these concerns so this magnificent tree will live for several decades.

The American Elm is truly an outstanding tree that deserves celebration, but in some cases careful maintenance consideration needs are made to ensure the continual health and prosperity of our unique specimen. So please come show some love for the Elm and community Thursday from 5-6 pm at the North End Parks Elm – corner of Sudbury and Cross Streets. FREE AND OPEN TO ALL. Visit the Conservancy event calendar for more information.

(Thanks to Matt Lobdell, Greenway Conservancy Horticulturalist and Tom Smarr, Greenway Conservancy Superintendent of Horticulture for their contributions to this story.)