Local elm tree that may date to early 1600s could still have life in it

A pair of roses front an American elm tree Wednesday near the intersection of 20th and Spring in Quincy. Dutch elm disease once wiped out nearly all the elm trees in Quincy, but this one survived. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Aug. 16, 2014 10:42 pm Updated: Aug. 31, 2014 1:15 am

By STEVE EIGHINGERHerald-Whig Staff Writer

There is a hope a large American elm tree on Spring Street -- one of the few in the city to have survived the blight of the 1970s -- is not on death's doorstep, but simply in "shock" following two summers of drought conditions and last winter's colder-than-usual temperatures.

Members of the Quincy Tree Commission, in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and nationally recognized Morton Arboretum in Lisle, hope the tree has not been infected with Dutch elm disease.

Early tests indicate the tree at the northeast corner of 20th and Spring has not been infected and that it may recover next spring or summer. Much of the tree, near the 20th and Spring intersection, appears to be "dead," but IDNR, Morton Arboretum, city and civic officials are taking a wait-and-see attitude through sometime next year.

The tree is believed to be between 253 and 390 years old, based on a formula used by the IDNR to calculate such things.

"This baby really has some history to it," Anne St. John, chairman of the Quincy Tree Commission, said.

The mathematics in question are based on such things as trunk diameter, height and size of canopy. Depending on the overall accuracy of the formula -- which is never fully known until a tree is cut down and a more accurate reading can be taken -- the Spring Street elm could date to the early 1600s.

"It's a huge tree, and it's a unique tree," Chuck Bevelheimer, director of planning and development for the city, said. "It's one of the few (in Quincy) that lived through the Dutch elm disease outbreak in the 1970s."

No plans are in place at this time to remove the tree, and it is posing no danger to individuals or personal property.

"There are only eight to 10 of these trees left in the city," St. John said. "It is a special tree and could prove to be of great value."

St. John said governmental agencies are interested in such specimens to see how they survived outbreaks such as the Dutch elm disease disaster. She has been working with representatives from the Morton Arboretum as well as Reinee Hildbrandt, the urban conservation program administrator for the IDNR.

St. John said she has been told from those private and governmental agencies that this could be a case of the tree being in "shock" after being through almost two years of extreme weather.

"(The tree) could come back," St. John said.

Bevelheimer says the city needs a "complete tree inventory," but needed funds and accuracy of such an undertaking would both be a problem. He said grant funding -- probably in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $50,000 -- would be required for such a task, and that would likely cover only trees on public property.

"And that would be only about 10 percent to 20 percent of all the trees in Quincy," he said.

The city is busy with another tree-related problem -- the anticipated arrival of the emerald ash borer, which will cost taxpayers about $500,000 over a 12-year period to battle the expected beetle infestation of ash trees.

The beetle was first discovered in the United States in 2002 in Michigan. It is believed to have arrived from Asia on wooden shipping crates. It was first detected in Illinois in 2007 and has gradually moved across the state. The beetle has been found as close as Knox County in Illinois.

The plan calls for removing most of the 880 ash trees in the city's right-of-way over time. Only about 200 ash trees will be treated with an injectable chemical to prevent the beetle infestation.

When an ash tree is infected by beetles, it will die quickly and the limbs will fall off, presenting a potential health hazard.