Historic Lanesborough Elm Tree Receives Maintenance, Inspection
On Monday, Race Mountain Tree Service arborists were climbing high into the Summer Street tree for some ongoing maintenance.
The company was trimming to remove dead branches and assessing the health of the tree to allow it to continue to grow.
"We're going to be looking at all of the places there are openings in the trunk to give us some sense of how much holding wood we have so we get some sense of what the risk of each piece is," said Race Mountain owner Ronald Yaple.
Race Mountain was looking at not only the condition of the tree but what hazards it could pose to the sidewalk, roadway, and homes it overhangs and reducing those hazards. With a large branch jutting out over Summer Street, the arborists cut off some large chunks to lessen the weight.
"A tree doesn't represent a hazard unless there is a target. A tree in the forest might hurt a squirrel if it fell but it is not considered a risk for humans. So we list the targets and assess the potential weaknesses of parts of the tree that might affect the target," Yaple said.
The company has been providing maintenance of the tree for more than a decade. Every couple years, the towering elm is inoculated to prevent Dutch elm disease, which has killed many of the region's elms over the years. The company does regular pruning and maintenance but this is the first deep inspection in a number of years. Yaple said the company likes to get a closer look at the tree every five years.
"The deadwood we are finding is incidental, the tree's natural process of occasionally getting a stem canker or not enough light to keep themselves viable," Yaple said midway through the pruning and inspection on Earth Day.
Yaple said signs of Dutch elem wouldn't bee seen at this point in the year the arborists have been keeping an eye on the tree's and that it should be protected through the inoculation.
"We're not worried about something 40 feet long, over the street, unless there is obvious decay. They're just a really strong tree," he said. "It being American elm, their wood fiber is incredibly strong."
The branches being cut off are mostly dead from natural causes and not disease.
"It has to be doing its work or it will be shed. Some deadwood is natural. It is the tree's process of managing its crown and not putting energy into building new vessels on a branch that is not doing its work," Yaple said.
The tree dates back to the same year, or potentially older, as the town, which was incorporated in 1765. Tree Committee member Paula Byrdy said estimates of its age were done in the past that put it right around that year so the committee uses that date as the approximate age -- so King Elmer is turning 254 years old this year.
"It came close to that when they measured and they guesstimated at the age. They had some technology to do it so we said, OK, that's 250 because that's our anniversary," Byrdy said.
The tree had once been found with Dutch Elm, according to George Kellar of the Tree and Forest Committee, and since then inoculations have been happening for years to fight it.
Race Mountain is also going to measure it and crunch the numbers to see if it will move up in the state rankings as the largest American elm. King Elmer, as it is known, has been sitting in third place but could move up if the new measurements are verified.
"This might be the second biggest in Massachusetts. We are trying to get them to officially come up with measurements, especially the spread, and register it," Kellar said.
King Elmer had been the champion and a ceremony was held in 2000 to honor that occasion and in 2010, it was thought it could be the largest in New England. But since then, other elm trees have surpassed it in size. In 2016, a tree in Old Deerfield took over as champion and a tree in Hatfield took second place.
The tree's maintenance is paid for by the volunteer committee, mostly through donations. The committee had been getting about $250 from the town each year but in 2018 that had grown to $1,000.
"The tree committee is basically separate from the town. We only get about $1,000 from the town. So we're paying for this with donations," Kellar said.
And maintaining the king isn't the only thing the committee does.
"We plant trees. We try to get a diversity of trees in the town. Even though the town has a lot of trees, they are all the same. Up at the school, in front of the school there is circle, we've got a lot of different trees planted there. And down at Laston Park, we've got a walk around Laston Park, and there are all sorts of trees we planted there," Kellar said.
Byrdy added that the committee also places education signs up to inform people about various trees and species as well as do an annual educational program with third-graders at Lanesborough Elementary School.
"As soon as the weather is good we put up signs showing the name of the tree, who donated it, and the Latin and English name. It's education," Byrdy said.
Tags: historical sites, tree commission, trees,
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