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Elmwood residents about to loose their sick elms

By John Geluardi, Daily Planet staff Dutch elm disease
Saturday October 27, 2001

Century-old trees diagnosed with Dutch elm disease  


Neighbors on quiet, tree-lined Elmwood Avenue are preparing themselves for the removal of the street’s namesake – 100-year-old American elm trees that have been diagnosed with the relentless Dutch elm disease. 

“We understand that the trees have to come down,” said neighbor Naomi Janowitz. “We’re just in mourning over them.” 

Residents on Elmwood Avenue, located in the southeast Berkeley “Elmwood District,” say they are concerned about what type of tree will be planted in place of the stately elms that have characterized the neighborhood for the last 90 years. 

Jerry Koch, the city’s senior forestry supervisor, said Berkeley is working with neighbors to try and determine what type of tree to plant in place of the elms. 

“We’re trying to work with the neighborhood to come up with a suitable species that will be resistant to disease,” he said. “We do have guidelines though, we are not going to plant a redwood tree in a two-foot plot.” 

Koch said whatever the new trees are, they will have to be compatible with the homes, utilities and sidewalks in the neighborhood. “We want to put in a beautiful tree that will be there for a good number of years.” he said. “But the city will be responsible for maintenance, trimming branches and repairing damaged sidewalks and utility wires, so we’re not going to get ridiculous about it.” 

Koch is meeting with a group of neighbors Sunday and says he will present them with a frontier elm, which the city has been planting in other sections of town. 

However, neighbors say they are not yet sold on the frontier elm, which only grows to 40 feet, much shorter than the American elm. They said they may consider the liberty elm, which grows as high as 100 feet, might be a more appropriate replacement. 

The American elms were diagnosed with Dutch elm disease last year. Caused by a fungus, the disease is transmitted by two species of bark beetles.  

Once the fungus is established within a tree, it spreads rapidly via its water-conducting vessels. The presence of the fungus damages the vessels, which causes the tree to wilt and eventually die.  

The first known case of Dutch elm disease was discovered in Ohio more than 70 years ago. It has now spread throughout North America and has destroyed more than half the elm trees in the northern United Sates. 

So far, only one tree has been felled on Elmwood Avenue. Janowitz pointed to a tree, marked with a blotch of red paint, across the street from her home.  

“That one comes down on Monday,” she said.  

The only elm tree not being cut down on Janowitz’s street is the one in front of her home. She said she is glad it is still healthy because her 10-year-old son, Noah, likes to watch the squirrels and hawks that nest in the tree from his bedroom window.  

Another neighbor, who declined to give her name, said she feared that whatever trees replace the American elms would be about five feet tall and grow at a rate of one foot or so a year. 

“In other words we’ll all be dead before we see trees like this again,” she said with an upward nod.