9 December 2007

Bringing back Ontario's Elms ... and Butternuts too.

photo by Martha Macy

The only elm tree I’ve ever seen is the American Elm in front of the Manulife Insurance building on Bloor Street.

I have to admit, it's an impressive and elegant bit of marketing for an insurance company. The tree was planted in 1934 and Dutch elm disease hit Ontario in the 60's, so I don't know how they've pulled it off; although when it came up at a LEAF workshop, I heard Todd Irvine say “that tree is on A LOT of drugs.”

Drug-addled or otherwise, turns out that tree isn't as lonely as I thought. Apparently 1,600 surviving White or American Elm trees have been reported across Ontario. One's even estimated at 250 years old.

This is what I'm reading in two recent articles by Sharon Oostenhoek: "One Night Stands" in Ontario Nature magazine's Winter 2007 issue and "A dating service for lonely elms" in yesterday's Globe and Mail.

Problem is, these elms are too far apart to breed with each other. That’s where University of Guelph professor Alan Watson elm “dating service” comes in.

Watson tells Oostenhoek that 600 of the 1,600 trees have been visited and confirmed and cuttings have been taken from the most “eligible”. The cuttings (clones) are now saplings. The saplings are being exposed to the fungus that causes Dutch elm disease, to find the ones with the best immunity responses. Once they’re mature enough to breed (about 10 years from now), they’ll be cross-pollinated with each other (more genetic diversity than clones = better chances of surviving this and other diseases). Their offspring will then also be exposed to the fungus, with the hopes that some of them, like their parents -- who "were able to seal off infected branches" -- will also have "the right mix of genes" that provide immunity.

If you have an elm to report or just want to know more about U of Guelph's work, check out their Elm Recovery Project.

Butternut Juglans cinerea

When you look at the range of the Butternut you'll see it's one of our native Southern Ontario "Carolinian" forest trees.

Hopefully, like some elms were able to defend themselves, more than a few butternuts will be immune to the fungus that causes Butternut canker (which BTW is also impacting Black Walnut too).

You can still buy a native butternut tree at Acorus Restoration. Visit their online catalogue and you'll read: "the Butternut tree has come under threat. A disease has killed most mature specimens and some trees are showing resistance. We must plant more to keep finding resistant genes.”

You can find more info and other ways to help out Butternut conservation efforts at the Forest Gene Conservation Association's information on butternut and the butternut canker in Canada.


Anonymous said...

RIP - this Elm is slated for removal Jan 19, 2013. It contracted Dutch Elm Disease in 2012, and wasn't able to be saved.

Anonymous said...

So sad... that tree was so beautiful and I enjoyed seeing it every day....

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