Watching over our elm trees

A 90-foot elm in Egremont is pruned by Haput Tree Co.

Friday, April 10

EGREMONT With an arching crown of twisting branches, the raised canopy of the American elm tree was once synonymous with the main streets of the Northeast. Today, the elm merely dots the landscape and for 10 years a local group has worked to ensure its safety and promote its re-population in the Berkshires.

Elm Watch, a group dedicated to fighting Dutch elm disease, as well as planting and caring for new elms in Massachusetts and Connecticut, celebrated its 10th anniversary Thursday. Several trees were treated to mark the occasion, including a majestic 90-foot elm in the fields of Egremont that was the reason for the group's founding.

Tom Zetterstrom, president of Elm Watch, is enamored with the twin-trunked heritage elm located on Baldwin Hill Road. The estimated 125-year-old tree stands alone over sloping farm fields and looks down on the neighboring mountain range. More than a decade ago, it was the centerpiece photograph in a series he had compiled.

"To look at this tree, you can see what an extraordinary piece of architecture this is," he said.

Elm Watch was founded soon after, as the tree was injected with a fungicide to protect it against Dutch elm disease in 1999. Ten years later, the care continued Thursday, as a crew pruned dead branches for the first time.

In the first half of the last century, elms — which are also Massachusetts' state tree — made up 75 percent of the trees that lined New England's streets, according to Zetterstrom, but Dutch elm disease destroyed nearly all of them upon arriving in the 1940s.

As well as protecting older trees, Elm Watch has planted 150 elms — donated by towns, individuals, civic groups, businesses and schools — throughout the area in an attempt to bring the graceful giants back.

The group also advocates for forestry outreach, speaking with developers about landscaping and dissuading them from using non-native invasive species or planting a mono-culture plant that would be more susceptible to disease.

"We're trying to increase the dialogue of the nuanced variability of sustainable community forestry," he said.

But as Zetterstrom stood under the massive elm, his passion for the trees was obvious. With the new buds hanging high over the soft farmed ground, and the warm sun touching the sleepy hills on a quiet spring morning, he admired the tree and the picturesque view it was a part of.

"This is the best of what Berkshire County has to offer," he said.

To reach Trevor Jones:, or (413) 528-3660.