I am not sure why, but I seem to have been noticing dead elm trees in my travels recently. Some of you can probably remember when they were full of life. What a sight they must have been, standing tall out here on the plains. They were actually quite common along many of the rivers and streams of our state. Now, of course, they are broken and decomposing skeletons that remind us of a time gone by.
Perhaps those skeletons seem to be more obvious to the casual observer during winter when we can actually see the forest for the trees. The cause of all that elm mortality of course is Dutch elm disease. The disease, a fungus native to Europe and/or Asia, slipped into the United States in a shipment of unpeeled elm logs to be used for veneer. The disease was first documented in Ohio in 1930. As most everyone knows, with the help of elm bark beetles carrying the fungus, it spread across the country leaving dead elms in its wake. It was first documented in Minnesota in the early 1960’s and North Dakota shortly afterwards.
Part of the widespread mortality was the fact that American elms were so desirable as shade trees that that is about all we planted. The streets of many towns were lined with elms, and only elms. Once Dutch elm disease hit, green ash became the “new” tree of choice. Now of course a similar series of events will likely play out with the emerald ash borer. Hopefully we have now learned to plant a variety of trees.
Some of you may have forgotten that the American elm is the North Dakota state tree. It is too bad that we rarely see a living one. However, several resistant elms have been developed (American elms and hybrids), including “Valley Forge” from the National Arboretum, “Princeton,” and “New Harmony.” There is even one named “Brandon” which, ironically was developed in Alberta. I suspect it may have come from stock in or near Brandon, Manitoba, or perhaps bears the name of the person that developed it.
For those of you considering planting some trees this summer, consider planting some elms. Check with your local garden center. They likely will have some elms in stock. However, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and plant a diversity of species!
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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