American Elm : Cultural Significance

American elm - 1890

Many people sitting on an American elm that had to be cut down or had fallen in Wapping, Massachusetts in August 1890. (Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association)

“’The tall, abounding elm, that grows,

In hedgerows up and down;

In field and forest, copse and park,

And in the peopled town;

With colonies of noisy rooks,

That nestle on its crown’” 

(Johnson, Prince, Sutherland, 2005).

-Stanza 20 in Part III from the poem “The Elm Tree. A Dream in the Woods.” 

by Thomas Hood (May 23, 1799-May 3, 1845)

     Elms started out as a distinct feature of British landscape and then they were brought over to the east coast of what is now the United States, specifically the New England area, when more people started settling the “New World”. The first elms were planted in New England and then the tree quickly spread throughout the country, lining many streets in towns, just like elms had in England. Even though elms were a significant part of the landscape in these two places, different species of elms were used in each place. The native elm to England is the woodland wych elm and after the elms came to New England, the native elm to the United States became the American elm. 

     In New England, people loved American elms so much that they would take pictures and have burials for big American elms in town that had to be cut down or had fallen. In 1890, in Wapping, Massachusetts there is a picture of many people sitting atop a huge American elm that fell in their town. On August 15, 1853 in Deerfield, Massachusetts, the big American elm tree of the town had to be cut down because it was decaying too much. The town held a burial for the tree, where leaders of the community stood on the tree’s trunk and read eulogies about the tree. 

     Even today, people still mourn the death of big elm trees. There is a whole blog post from GammaBlog about a big American elm tree being cut down this summer in Tompkins Square Park in New York City. The post shows how big the tree was and gives some important pictures from the tree’s life, like when a huge branch came down during Hurricane Irene. When the tree was cut down, the diameter was estimated to be around 5.5 feet! These two examples of how people cared so much for American elms in history and today show how this tree is a significant symbol to our country.

Click here to go to GammaBlog and see the pictures.