Michael Schmidt and Ron Yaple, foreground, install injection tees at the base of King Elmer.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The king may have been dethroned, but the local tree committee is making sure he doesn't lose his crown.
"King Elmer," the American elm tree that towers above Summer Street near the junction with Route 7, once held the title for the largest such specimen in the commonwealth.
It since has been supplanted by a slightly larger tree in Old Deerfield Village, but with a height of 110 feet and an average crown measuring just more than 99 feet across, the tree named by Lanesborough Elementary School pupils in 2010 remains a regal presence.
Like elm trees across North America, Elmer's biggest threat is Dutch elm disease, which decimated the elm population in the United States after it was first identified in the country in 1928.
On Thursday, Ron Yaple and Michael Schmidt of Sheffield's Race Mountain Tree Services were in town to inoculate King Elmer against the dread disease.
Under the watchful eyes of members of the Lanesborough Tree and Forest Committee, which hired Race Mountain to do the work, the pair drilled 66 1-inch holes into the elm's base, plugged them with injection tees linked by tubing and slowly infused 77 gallons of water mixed with the fungicide to prevent regicide.
The historic tree already has fought off one bout with Dutch elm disease. That required both "surgery" and injections; Thursday's treatment was to help prevent a recurrence
"It had been infected," Yaple said of Elmer. "Another tree company excised the diseased significant branch, which you must do when you find infection.
"You have to excise back 10 feet from the point of vascular discoloration. Because it's a vascular disease, it readily spreads through the tree's vascular system and causes vessels to plug. That's the mechanism for the death of the tree."
The mechanism for spreading the disease is the elm bark beetle, which had a field day in America back in the middle of the 20th century.
According to a 1989 New York Times article, of an estimated 77 million elm trees in North America in 1930, more than 75 percent were lost by 1989.
That said, there are enough other elm trees in Elmer's domain to make the beetles a viable threat.
"For example, in my back yard, I have a 65-foot American elm that, about three years ago, it up and died in one season," said Jim Neureuther, the chair of the town committee. "And right now, if you go down to Laston Park ... there's an elm tree growing that's probably 50 foot tall. And right across the street on Route 7 from Laston Park is another elm tree. I know of another big elm tree that's down off of Stormview Road, about a quarter mile south of here.
"They're still around."
Race Mountain's Yaple said he probably treats about 20 elm trees each year. The trees generally are treated on a three-year cycle.
"Most are private, some public, some along the Route 7 corridor, some in streetscapes in various towns," he said. "Some are adopted by people. Very commonly, elm are adopted, and the process of injection is paid for by an individual who donates the fee."
In the case of King Elmer, Neureuther's committee has since 2004 implemented a maintenance program for the tree, which is believed to date back to around the time of the town's incorporation in 1765. That would make the monarch 255 years old.
The Tree and Forest Committee receives support from the town but also raises funds to support its preservation of Elmer and other initiatives, like plantings at Laston Park and on the grounds of Lanesborough Elementary School.
Thursday's treatment cost almost $1,200, Neureuther said. Over the past five years, the committee has received just more than $3,500 from the town while raising just shy of $10,000 from donations.
"It was 2012 prior to that," Neureuther said of the pruning. "Right now, it's mainly for structural reasons. They don't want the weight imbalance to get too big. A tree like this, if it ever came down for some reason is going to cause a lot of damage."
Hopefully, that day will never come.
"The injections are really the only thing that assures us that King Elmer will still be around," Neureuther said. "If we were to stop them, you would imagine in a matter of 10 years there'd be no reason not to expect him to be infected.
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