One Of Nantucket's Oldest Elm Trees Falls During Storm

Jason Graziadei •

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Photo by David Creed

One of the oldest elm trees on the island came down late Sunday night in high winds and heavy rain at the Silver Street parking lot.

Town arborist Dale Gary told the Current that the elm tree dates back to the early 1900s and was well over 100 years old. It had been heavily weighted to one side, and Gary had been pruning it for years in an effort to avoid this outcome for the tree. “It saddens me but I don’t have any regrets in how we tried to save it.”

Nantucket has one of the largest populations of old-growth elm trees that survived the spread of Dutch elm disease in the entire northeast United States.

“Under the right conditions and in the right area, they can live easily 200 years,” Gary said. But a number of the island’s century-old elms have been lost in recent years.

“Because things have changed on Nantucket so much and all the stress they’re under from the traffic, pollution, foot and vehicle traffic, they’ve become distressed,” Gary added.

On Tuesday, Gary and his crew from the DPW began the process of cutting the tree up and disposing of its limbs. By the afternoon, only the massive trunk remained.

According to the Nantucket Land & Water Council, "one of the few species that has made a distinctive mark on Nantucket is the mighty American elm. Once the preferred sidewalk tree in the northeast, historic downtowns throughout New England were shaded with the towering trees. After the great fire of 1846 that burned most of downtown Nantucket, a new crop of American elms was planted along almost every street and at every corner...In the later half of the twentieth century, however, our global economy caught up to the American elm through the unwanted importation of the Dutch elm disease. This debilitating fungus, which is spread by the elm bark beetle, helped destroy nearly all cultivated and natural American elms throughout the Continent.... Luckily, due to our remote location, many of the Nantucket elms have withstood the devastating effects of the disease. Careful disease prevention and pruning strategies employed by the Town have also helped promote the elms’ survival."

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