Elms Make A Comeback In The Elm City

In a one-gallon pot on her front steps, Cordalie Benoit is growing a piece of New Haven history, and taking part in a now nationally recognized community gardening effort.

The plant on Benoit’s steps on Wooster Square’s Court Street is a young elm tree, the kind of tree that once flourished in New Haven, earning the city its nickname.

The elm tree population collapsed in the Elm City in the mid-20th century, thanks to beetle-born Dutch Elm Disease. For six years, Benoit and her fellow members of the New Haven Garden Club have been working to bring the elm back to town, and to educate people about its historic significance in the history of the Green.

Those efforts recently earned the club a national award from the Garden Club of America. At the national club’s annual meeting two weeks ago in New Orleans, the New Haven Garden Club learned that it had won the Founders Fund award. That means the New Haven club will receive $30,000 to continue its efforts.

Those efforts include nursing baby elms and then giving them away to people looking to plant a historic tree in their yard. For several years, Benoit has been one of a number of “foster parents” who have reared young elms to hand off to loving homes.

The garden club is now giving away the elm trees, which past-President Debbie Edwards said are suitable for residential yards or “low-traffic” public areas. Interested? Email the club .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

The young elms are of the Jefferson American variety, which is resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. The club has also nursed elms grown from seeds taken from two large elms still standing in New Haven, Benoit said. “We’re hoping they’re naturally resistant. We’ll see.”

The club has also produced a DVD about the history of the Green, given to teachers throughout the city, and two walking tours of the Green. One of the tours is pamphlet-based and focused on trees. People can pick up the directions at the Yale visitor center or at the New Haven information center at the corner of College and Chapel.

The other tour is telephonic. On the Green, dial 203-672-4384 to be walked through half an hour of Green history.

Edwards said that the Founders Fund award will allow the club to bring schoolchildren down to the Green to take the tours.

As she showed off her young elm on her steps this week, Benoit pointed out a “volunteer” elm that had sprouted on its own in another plot. Large elms still exist in New Haven, and drop thousands of fluffy oat-like seeds in the spring, which pile up in little drifts and occasionally take root.

Benoit took a stroll to the corner of Olive Street, to point out a venerable old elm (pictured below)—apparently disease resistant—standing there. You can spot an elm by it’s distinctive “vase shape,” Benoit said. The canopy arches like flowers spilling out of a vase. Elms also have gray, ridged bark, and the leaves have serrated edges.

“It’s a beautiful tree,” Benoit said of the specimen on Olive Street.

Maybe her little sapling elm will one day stand as tall. “Yes!” Benoit said. “Wouldn’t it be cool?”

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posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 31, 2014  3:42pm

I’d love to know which are the two trees in New Haven that are being used as parents for the experimental seedlings.  Is one of them the featured tree at Olive and Court?  Where is the other one.

We had a large healthy elm beside our driveway in the 1980s, when we lived at 188 Willow Street, next door to Archie Moore’s, on a double lot where we had a side lawn and a garden.  When we outgrew the house and put up a For Sale sign, the then-owner of Archie’s called that same day to offer the asking price, and as soon as he closed on the house, he bulldozed that tree along with everything else in the side yard and most of the back yard, and paved it over for a parking lot.

posted by: HewNaven on May 31, 2014  9:12pm

This is exciting news!

Sidenote: that intersection where Benoit is standing needs a light and walk signal. It’s only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured. Cars always seem to speed through that section of Olive.

posted by: Cordalie on June 6, 2014  2:49pm

The trees were on Whitney Ave near Putnam in Hamden.  Since that time, one has died.