Disease Resistant Elms for Fort Belvoir Business Center

January 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm
Princeton Elms planted along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House

This winter, one of the projects we’ve been busy working on involves tree planting over at the new Fort Belvoir Business Center. Although the scope is simple – tree planting and the installation of an irrigation system – it touches on a subject (the prevention of Dutch Elm Disease) close to our hearts as landscape contractors.

Dutch Elm disease first came to America in the 1920’s via a shipment of logs from the The Netherlands, but was prevalent in Asia prior to that time. It is spread by elm bark beetles and has, since the 1950’s, done severe damage to the American Elm population. Because Dutch Elm disease is caused by a fungus, there are a variety of chemical and biological ways to treat it,but disease prevention holds the most promise for reviving this declining species.

The American Elm is a fast-growing and long-lived species capable of attaining great size in a few centuries, especially when open-grown. Because of its impressive height, the American Elm has historically been the single most popular shade tree for lawns and city streets in the eastern United States, even earning distinction as the state tree of Massachusetts and North Dakota.

Perhaps because of its natural abundance and stately character, Elms have taken on cultural significance in the United States. The early citizens of Portland, Maine and New Haven, Connecticut had such a passion for the American elm that they created elm-lined streets on practically every block and earned each city such nicknames as “Forest City” and “City of Elms.” Once as naturally abundant as maple, oak, and pine, the American elm was an essential part of our natural landscape and cultural heritage throughout the first few centuries of our history, and it was in fact the first symbol of our national independence (Boston’s famous “Liberty Tree” was an emblem of promise and a gathering site for patriotic citizens intent on independence until British soldiers destroyed it as a final act of hostility during a hurried retreat in 1775).

As an industry, landcapers have played a major role in the effort to bring back the American Elm through the use of disease resistant cultivars. Thanks to Colorado State University and its National Elm Trial, there are now more than 10 resistant American Elm U. americana cultivars commercially available in North America

At Fort Belvoir Business Center, we are planting the ‘Princeton’ cultivar, one of several relatively new disease resistant varieties. Examples of ‘Princeton’ were planted along Washington Road and another road in Princeton, New Jersey, and most of these trees survive to this day unaffected by disease. The cultivar was more recently chosen to replace Elms killed by disease along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. ‘Princeton’ is currently being evaluated in the USA as part of the National Elm Trial coordinated by Colorado State University. We look forward to watching these beautiful trees thrive in the years to come!