Avenues of Elms

The American Elm (Ulmus americana) known for its rapid growth and and hardiness was the perfect tree to enhance the towns and cities of a young America. Although there are many Elm Streets and Elm Avenues the devastation of Dutch elm disease (DED) left few of the namesake trees standing.

If you are age 40 or younger you may never have seen the elms of a truly majestic Elm Street. Trees were planted to form vistas of cathedral ceilings. Unfortunately, planting the elms in such density contributed to the spread of DED.

American elms resistant to DED, stands that have been carefully managed and varieties bred for disease resistance can be still be found.

One of the best known stands of old-growth elms can be found in Central Park in New York.

The poet and essayist Stanley Plumly died earlier this month. He was born in Barnesville, Ohio and grew up in Winchester, Virginia and Piqua, Ohio. He was most recently a professor at the University of Maryland and served as Maryland’s Poet Laureate from 2009-2012. In 2016 he was interviewed on the Kenyon Review podcast during which he read his poem ‘Dutch Elm.’ As woodworkers I think you will appreciate how he expresses what was lost, and what can be lost, when part of our natural world is damaged.

If you would like to listen only to his reading of the poem, it starts around minute 19:55. Click here to listen.

The gallery below shows the leaves, flowers, fruit and bark of the American elm.

Suzanne Ellison

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12 Responses to Avenues of Elms

  1. We had quite a few Elms on our property. The die-off began a few years ago and only a handful remain. Very majestic trees with large, wide canopies. So I’ve been replacing them with another native species in these parts – maple. Really miss the elms though and managed to salvage wood from them after destroying the outside bark. I used to complain about how stringy the wood was, little did I know.



  2. Aquila says:

    My maternal grandfather helped plant over a mile length of elms along the main street in Morgan Park, the town he was born in (later annexed into Chicago). I remember as a child how wonderful it was to drive that green arched tunnel before all those trees died of Dutch Elm disease. I wish there were photos of it.


  3. Emerald Ash Borer, Chestnut Blight, Walnut trees afflicted with Thousand Cankers Disease, and Heart Rot which afflicts hardwood trees, the assault on our trees is amazing. I try to stay vigilant and have a trusted arborist to call. DED took the tree in our parkway several years ago. I don’t think a single elm in the neighborhood has survived. Thankfully, all of the trees have been replaced with new trees. They say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today. Thank you for your great post.


  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    Despite the missing images, this is a good story about the use of elm wood from trees that had to be taken down:


    One about the use of beech trees removed for a building:



  5. toolnut says:

    The black and white photo reminds me of a street in my home town that was about a mile long and was just gorgeous. Not a single elm remains today.


  6. pinusmuricata says:

    Takes me back. Growing up we had apartments in Chicago, later Evanston, with big elm canopies above the streets. Really tamed the oppressive summer heat.


  7. johncashman73 says:

    I hope our descendant have ash trees still. It’s not looking good though.


    • stlww18 says:

      I have three on my property. One which is unsalvageable, one which is untouched, and one that I think I can save. I am treating them, yearly, with a Bayer systemic insecticide in the hopes that they can outlast the borers!


  8. AwosanyaAdedoyinS says:

    wow! love this post… Elms, i hope it rise and shine again…


  9. Jim Dillon says:

    Fargo, ND still has blocks where you can get the “avenue of elms” effect. Cruise around just south of downtown and you’ll see.


  10. stlww18 says:

    There are now quite a few cultivars of Elm that are Dutch Elm resistant. I think Valley Forge and Patriot are the names. I am hoping to plant one in my front yard soon.


  11. Byron Heppner says:

    I invite you to take a walk (via Streetview) through some of the streets of Winnipeg. Try Oakwood or Fisher in my Riverview neighbourhood, or Jubilee and Grosvenor. At one time not so long ago, the city had 200,000 mature elm trees, and though we are losing them steadily, there is nothing quite like evening sun through the canopy, or the first snow coming down through the bare branches (this is Winterpeg, after all). When we lost the tree in front of our house, I was able to salvage the wood for our kitchen island, and the beautiful wood lives on.


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