Short History of Dutch Elm Disease

Short History of Dutch Elm Disease

Imagine trying to take a drink of water, but instead of a nice, refreshing gulp, you can’t swallow what’s right in front of you; something has blocked your throat. That might be how an American elm feels when it has Dutch Elm Disease.

Dutch Elm Disease, or DED, is a fungal pathogen that clogs the pathways elm trees use to get water from the roots to the rest of the tree, which causes to the tree to wilt and die. The spread of DED in the United States started in the 1930s when the European bark beetle was brought into the country; the beetles harbor the fungus and contaminate elm trees.

Even though the amount of trees lost to Dutch Elm Disease has been massive, certain varieties of the American elm have survived. Scientists are studying these trees to determine whether they were simply too isolated to have been in contact with the disease, are truly immune to the disease, or if they have become tolerant of the disease. Some scientists are also taking the tolerant trees and trying to breed or clone them to see if those hybrid trees will become immune to DED.

With the number of elms having decreased dramatically in the last eighty years, it is increasingly important to maintain and care for the elms that still exist today. You can identify an elm by its tall structure (most elms are 80 to 100 feet tall); its dark green, deciduous, sawtooth-edged leaves; and groove-like bark. Elms also develop brown seed pods that have a wafer-like texture to them.

Elm trees used to be the quintessential American tree, being planted along main streets all over the country: their vast height and moderately dense foliage provided shade to whole streets. Only time will tell if the hybrid elm trees will have a rich future to match the American elms’ illustrious past.

Do you think you have an elm tree in your yard or neighborhood? Contact us today so we can identify the tree, provide our expert opinion, and ultimately help you save and maintain this majestic American treasure.