Lanesborough pupils pose at the foot of the champion elm on Friday.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Even without the sign stating its championship, it's obvious this elm tree is something special.
Rising more than 100 feet, its waving branches alone are larger than many trees. A house — or several grades of schoolchildren — can easily fit under its canopy. It might even be big enough to inherit the mantle of Herbie, the largest elm tree in New England that succumbed to Dutch elm disease in January at the age of 217.
That chance to be named New England's biggest inspired a weeklong study of the Massachusetts Champion Elm on Summer Street by the pupils at Lanesborough Elementary School. It culminated on Friday, Arbor Day, with the first, third, fourth and fifth grades seated under its spreading branches for a talk with Ken Gooch, a forest supervisor with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
"We wanted to do something with Arbor Day," said Principal Ellen Boshe. "This seemed a special occasion."
Teachers had been taking their classes to visit the tree, just down the street from the school, using various ways to measure it — like how many children it takes to circle it. Alice Spatz of the Lanesborough Tree and Forest Committee visited the third grade to talk about what the area was like when the tree was their age. The children also submitted possible names for the tree, which Gooch estimated at 125 to 150 years old.
State forester Ken Gooch asks a question. (Children and staff wear kerchiefs in solidarity with a teacher undergoing chemotherapy). Right, birds built a nest in the elm's long branches.
New England was once dotted with such venerable flora, often called Liberty Trees after the famed elm in Boston and for the revolutionaries that gathered under them. Dutch elm disease arrived in the late 1920s and wiped out much of the Northeast's elm population as beetles quickly spread the fungus between the close-growing trees.
"There are not that many elms left around here," said Gooch, who added it was unusual for such a large tree to be found in a residential area. "That's why this elm has survived."
Spatz said the Tree and Forest Committee was established nearly a decade ago in large part to protect the elm, with the help of the national Elm Watch program. But it was diagnosed with Dutch elm a year after its designation as a state champion by the nonprofit American Forests.
Two nearby infected elms were removed when they were discovered to have Dutch elm, which is spread by beetles. The champion elm is treated every several years with a fungicide and any suspect limbs are removed.
Champions are based on calculations devised by the nonprofit American Forests' National Register of Big Trees. Trees are awarded points based on adding their height, girth and a quarter of their average spread.
The unofficial points for the Lanesborough elm are 322.5, but Gooch planned to come back for a more precise measurement. In 2000, Herbie was listed as having 350 points; the largest registered elm is an American variety in Ohio with 416 points.
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