THE TREE DOCTOR (aka The Plant Doctor)

A Silent Moment for the Champion American Elm

An image of the Buckley Elm's massive canopy
The Buckley Elm in the background, with a car in front of it
An image of the Elm's 23' trunk


The national champion American elm known as "the Buckley Elm," resides on a farm near Buckley, Michigan. It is estimated to be about 300 years old and is approximately 23 feet in circumference. Last September, 2000, I learned from Marty Hair of the Detroit Free Press (link broken) that Dr.Jay Stipes, a plant pathologist and DED expert from Virginia, has diagnosed DED on samples he collected from the Buckley Elm. This is sad news for the Buckley Elm and for the few Ulmus Americana species left in Michigan. I will attempt to confirm this diagnosis and make a determination on whether any inputs can be used to save the tree.  As you may know, this year probably ranks as the worst Dutch elm disease year in the past two decades.   

9/14/00  Dr. Roberts

A large Elm tree, the Champion American Elm
9/14/00 Initial inspection of the majestic Buckley Elm
The Elm tree during the fall, with a noticeable lack of foliage
10/14/00  "Just imagine, this once beautiful, breathtaking tree so famously photographed during the fall with its full, vibrant colors, is now struggling to prevail." Credit: S. Rosa
A frontal view of the tree
10/14/00 Frontal view taken as you approach the em. Credit: S. Rosa
The Buckley Elm in a visible state of decline
4/20/01 "Right before us the Buckley Elm internally declines as represented in the partial leafing of the canopy this spring. The rapid destruction of the dutch elm disease leaves us feeling helpless in preventing any further spreading of the decay within this tree. That is why this disease poses such a devastating threat to all our healthy thriving elms." CreditL Dr, Elsner, MSU Extension  
The tree with incredibly sparse foliage
9/20/01 5 months from prior photo; and 1 year from initial photo of this champion elm

A Tribute to the Buckley Elm

As many of you know, the Buckley Elm, the "National Champion American Elm" tree and hence, probably the largest American elm in the world, was diagnosed with Dutch Elm Disease (DED) in 2000.

Last spring (2001), approximately one-third of the tree did not leaf-out and another third exhibited sparse foliage.  A team comprised of Meg and Gary Kuhlman, Dr. Duke Elsner of Grand Traverse MSU Extension and myself attempted to inject the tree using a macro-infusion technique and experimental rates of a fungicide. By doing the injection, we had no illusions that the tree could be saved; we wanted to prolong the viability of the tree as long as possible. Regrettably, the disease had apparently progressed much more quickly than we had anticipated. To date, September 28, 2001, over 90% of the tree is dead, and it is doubtful that any foliage will emerge next spring.

This loss represents a hard-learned lesson. First, many people with large elms truly believe their trees are resistant to DED. Over the past several years, coincidental with a major DED epidemic, I have discussed, er...perhaps argued, with many individuals from around Michigan and even from other states that their large elms are not resistant to DED, even if their trees escaped the onslaught of the earlier epidemics. Another major factor contributing to the current epidemic and loss of many large valuable elms is the lack of sanitation measures, namely the removal of and proper disposal of millions of dead elms currently standing around Michigan. If we want to maintain our current population of healthy elms, we must adopt strict and contemporary integrated measures to ensure the greatest potential for continued optimal tree health.

At the time of its demise, the Buckley Elm stands 112 feet tall, has a trunk circumference of 23 1/2 feet and a crown that is 115 feet across.  The tree was named the National Champion several years ago by the Champion Tree Project, originated and headed by David Milarch of Copemish. Because of its particularly undesirable location in the middle of a corn field on a commercially operating hog farm, the tree would probably have been cut down years ago...except there did not seem to be a large enough chain saw to accomplish the task. 

Hats off to the Champion Buckley Elm, a moment of silence, and our condolences to the Champion Tree Project and to the Svec family, the owners of the tree.