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A FAREWELL TO ELMS: Disease claims latest casualty — iconic campus tree sha

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A FAREWELL TO ELMS: Disease claims latest casualty — iconic campus tree shading Old Main

by Chris Rosenblum,
March 10th 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK — Whining saws and roaring chippers sounded the death knell.

Branch by branch, a Penn State landmark came down Friday. University workers started dismantling one of the two massive American elms in front of the Old Main administration building.

But the real killer, elm yellows disease, had already struck.

Planted in 1933, the 125-foot tree was dying from the same bacteria-like infection that has claimed 76 elms since arriving on campus five years ago. About 100 elms remain from an original population of 287 thinned by elm yellows and the older Dutch elm disease.

Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant removed the Old Main elm to slow the spread of elm yellows, a scourge with no known cure. Transmitted by insects called leafhoppers, the disease damages trees’ inner bark, preventing nourishment from reaching leaves and causing them to turn yellow and drop prematurely.

Friday, branches covered the ground instead. Against a blue sky before clouds rolled in, a crane gingerly lowered roped branch segments. One limb about a foot wide weighed 3,400 pounds. Gradually, the OPP crew sheared the majestic crown — bringing an end to an icon spanning nine Penn State presidencies.

“It’s listened to the Old Main bells for 79 years, but it will hear the chimes no more,” said Paul Ruskin, an OPP spokesman. “It’s very sad.”

But as the nearly 100-year-old elm fell, it may have helped other trees rise.

Large limbs and a trunk more than 4 feet wide will be salvaged to make diploma frames and furniture in the Penn State Elms Collection, a line made from the fallen campus trees. A portion of the sales supports planting new trees across the university.

Jeff Dice, grounds maintenance supervisor, said the line has generated $280,000 in sales the past two years.

“Mainly, the goal of the program is we bring the value of the trees back to the campus,” said Dice, who also directs Penn State’s elm management and preservation program. “They’ve had such a high value for so long.”

On Old Main’s left, the second elm planted in 1933 is sick but remains healthy enough to stay for now, Ruskin said. It may be only a matter of time, but as long as the tree survives, its missing counterpart won’t be replaced.

“We will have some asymmetry for some years,” Ruskin said.

Whatever eventually shades Old Main won’t be more elms. In recent years, Penn State planted a more diverse selection of shade trees as a hedge against disease and pests.

When it’s time for a new Old Main set, Ruskin said, the trees probably will stand farther apart than the current elms.

Dice said university landscape architects will give careful thought to any Old Main arboreal design.

“This is a very important space for the university,” he said. “You can count on them doing it right.”

The elm’s removal continues today.

Some of the wood will end up as interior trim in the new Biobehavioral Health Building being constructed nearby, Ruskin said.

And some of it, cut into coaster-sized slices, wound up in a bucket Friday as free keepsakes.

Two women, both Penn State employees, collected small stacks to give to alumni friends. Both looked with sorrow at the disfigured elm, saying they’ll miss its stately presence.

Dice also hated to see the tree go, but he took a historical view. Going back a century, he said, the campus has had trees die or removed and new ones take their place.

“The landscape has changed over the years,” Dice said. “This is the latest chapter.”

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620.

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Shared from Read It Later


Written by vaphc

March 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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