Early in December, a big old American elm tree came down in front of the Agriculture Canada building on University Ave. It was one of over 350 elms that the City of Charlottetown is removing in an attempt to protect the remaining healthy elm from contracting Dutch Elm Disease (DED). A native of the Island, it was part of “Elm Avenue” planted around 1903 and present even before the Experimental Farm came into existence in 1909. But it had been weakened by DED, which is a vascular wilt disease caused by fungi Ophiostoma ulmi and/or Ophiostoma novo-ulmi; these eventually kill a tree by interfering with the flow of water and nutrients to the living tissues. By removing it and other infected trees, the City hopes to save the healthy ones that are left.
Now the elm sits waiting on the lawn to be moved to its new home. The hope is that it will continue to enrich the Island and its people as a climbing structure in the nature-based playground planned for construction in Bonshaw Provincial Park. Nature-based playgrounds are designed to encourage a love for natural ecosystems in the very young. In the park, play structures built from Island wood and stone will complement the surrounding forest landscape and soften the transition from open park to woodland.
The PEI Invasive Species Council has talked before about the initiative “Don’t Move Firewood”. As people travel to campgrounds around the region, they can potentially take invasive insects or diseases with them and contribute to their spread. So what about moving trees for playgrounds? The Bonshaw Hills Public Lands Committee didn’t want to inadvertently introduce an invasive forest insect or disease to the Island by bringing in timber from the mainland for the new playground. Small pieces of lumber can be treated to ensure they are not harbouring hitchhikers, but it is not easy to kiln-dry a whole tree! Being able to source trees from the Island that are large enough and will last for any length of time has its own challenges. Using the elm wood from the City is a good solution. However, it also requires due diligence. The elm from University Ave will need to spend the upcoming summer indoors so that the chemicals it releases will not attract bark beetles that carry the fungal spores of the disease and help contribute to its spread. We have finally found a storage space large enough to house a 23′ long elm tree for 10 months! Next year we can show you what this elm looks like in its new home, where it can continue to tell a story.