Marked for death

We have this lovely old slippery elm in our backyard — it’s huge and thickly branched and towers over our house. This evening we noticed that sometime during the day, we had a visitor.


That is not a good sign. We’ll have to call the tree doctor tomorrow and get a diagnosis.


  1. lijdare says

    Uh… how would anyone – assuming a governmental official – gain access to your property without your permission?

    Dutch elm disease control?

  2. says

    Dutch Elm disease is a major problem, and yes, city inspectors get to check out trees in your yard for disease. They also get to make us pay to have it removed.

    It’s OK. This is basically a public tree health problem that needs to be addressed by treating or removing infected trees.

  3. newfie says

    No expert on trees by any means, but that one looks a little top heavy, and could easily split and fall in windy conditions.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Somehow, with all the posts about his vanilla-mayonnaise whitebread lifestyle, our esteemed host seems never to have mentioned that white picket fence.

    And how did the local tree inspector get past the kraken moat?

  5. Matrim says

    Hmm…have you tried diluting infinitesimal amounts of Ophiostoma ulmi in water? Or maybe just rub quantum into it?

  6. psanity says

    The Phhht! of all knowledge says that slippery elms are thought to be somewhat resistant to Dutch Elm disease, but also there is a bug that is dangerous to them.

    Ah, I miss all the elm trees. Nothing else has that distinctive, lovely shape — and the way the giant trees made the streets of Minneapolis into endless green cathedral arches is something I will never forget.

  7. komarov says

    If you want to explore that avenue of arboreal healthcare you might as well tilt the tree 45° to turn the x into a cross. Surely Satan could never corrupt a blessed tree.

    And should the tree fall on your home just remember: it’s not my fault but God’s will.

  8. numerobis says

    Oh no! Losing a big tree is the worst :(

    (Well, apart from worse things, but it’s still awful.)

  9. chigau (違う) says

    I live in Alberta.
    We don’t have Dutch Elm Disease.
    Because we have taken measures that are usually characterised as “aggressive”.
    Just short of nuke it from orbit.

  10. pipefighter says

    I live in alberta too. Sadly, I’m about to lose my elm as well. Thankfully I won’t have to pay for it though. Its funny how so many albertans complain about the evil gumbit but don’t say a word about how it handles DED and rats…

  11. chigau (違う) says

    In the picture PZ posted:
    -that leafy crap in midpic needs to be removed because it will become that 45° thing on the left, which will become the broken dead one just above.
    -brokendead is where parasites live

  12. chigau (違う) says

    and the dead branch in the upper left
    and that weird skinny upright in the middle of the picture
    I meant ‘monstrous’ as ‘ghastly’ or ‘hideous’ not ‘large’.

  13. says

    chigau @14,
    “brokendead is where parasites live” – also birds and possums. The lack of good knotholed trees is a problem for a number of parrot species in Aus.

  14. unclefrogy says

    very true but a dead fall is a bad thing around buildings and areas frequented by people like public parks but trees in all states of life are perfectly acceptable in natural forests not to be confused with tree/lumber farms.
    That tree appears to have been improperly pruned and then neglected for a long time and I wonder if the heart has started to rot.
    Out here on the west coast away from any freezes termites would have eaten the heart out by now and shelf fungus would likely be growing out the side of the main trunk. It is sad to see a tree go. I hope you can get some use out of the wood maybe not all for the fire and the chipper.
    I lost a plum tree last year and kept some good material out of it with plans brewing and steeping in the back of my mind.
    uncle frogy

  15. cartomancer says

    Are you sure the tree isn’t going through a mid-life crisis and just got a tattoo to try to recapture its wild youth?

  16. birgerjohansson says

    You need to reconsider what trees to keep in the garden. In my experience, man-eating triffids do not have this problem. The occasonal jehowah’s witness will provide enough minerals and fertilizer for two-three years.

  17. pipefighter says

    It’s funny listening to people complain about health care. “We need more doctors and nurses to reduce wait times!!” “So hire more doctors and nurses from abroad and build more hospitals.” “But, but, but, then we’d have more immigrants, and you know what that means?” “I don’t know, people who sacrificed a great deal in order to make a better life for themselves and will appreciate what they have and contribute a great deal to our society? Just a thought.” “no, it will mean BIG SCARY OMINOUS THINGS!!! Whites will be the minority, more people will like those commie sports like soccer and STUFF…!!!” “all of that stuff is vague and makes no sense…” “shhhh….” “what about the additional hospitals?” “We can’t afford anymore wasteful government spending!!! We need to cut the budget, tighten the belt, random political slogan, johnny burger flipper, gay agenda!!! What, you’re leaving and don’t want to talk to me? You’re ramming your evil liberal ideology down my throat!!!”

  18. Bob Foster says

    I suspect a tree that size will cost about a $1000 to remove. I had to have four very tall, storm damaged pines taken out of my yard and that ran almost $4000. That was money I had other plans for. I hope things are cheaper in Minnesota.

  19. says

    All depends on how much has to be done. If you specify that you want to keep the wood (if allowed, sometimes it’s not in the case of disease), the surgeon may charge up to half what it would normally cost to cut and haul it away. They may leave most of it laying the yard, but a decent chainsaw is a lot cheaper than having they shred it. And you get firewood, either to use yourself or sell. In Minnesota, that’s a commodity.

  20. Reginald Selkirk says

    Replace it with a GMO chestnut tree from the American Chestnut Foundation.

  21. madtom1999 says

    If you do keep the wood (and diseased elm can look fantastic for making things with) dont use a chainsaw to cut up bits you can cut with a bow-saw. Its excellent exercise (swap hands to ensure symmetry) and surprisingly pleasant if you set things up properly: you can make an oversize horse from some of the branches and use ratchet straps to tie the logs to it for cutting.

  22. rietpluim says

    If it does have Dutch elm disease, I doubt PZ can keep anything from the tree. It has to be thoroughly destructed or it may spread the infection.

  23. Chelydra says

    @28 Reginald Selkirk
    American Chestnut Foundation is the group *hybridizing* using Chinese chestnut. GMO chestnuts are through the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project. Then there’s the American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation, which is working with naturally blight-resistant American chestnuts found in the wild. Personally I prefer the latter two strageties over American Chestnut Foundation’s.

  24. says

    Came home this week to find that the entire line of trees in the park across the street had been cut down. They were all lining the street. Call the church that owns the park to find out why they were cut down and was told that the city had told them that the trees were too close to the street and had to be cut down. Now these trees were at least 80 years old and had been around the size they were when cut down for at least a decade.

    Mindless bureaucracy.

  25. frog says

    Now I miss the tree in my mother’s backyard all over again. We played around and in this tree as kids, and it was ENORMOUS. The canopy of this single maple covered four backyards (city lots, but still, it was a good 80-100′ across), and the roots stretched most of the block. Individual branches of the thing were larger than most of the maples in the neighborhood. The main trunk was 4′ in diameter. It was taller than the oak next door. Truly, it was an Ent.

    My mother was terrified it would come down. There was literally no direction this thing could fall that wouldn’t take out a house, so she wasn’t entirely wrong-thinking.

    She took it down in April of 2012. NYC was hit by Sandy that October, and then a massive Nor’easter the following week. My mother’s neighborhood looked as if it had been hit by the Tunguska blast, massive trees just leveled, whole streets without their plantings anymore.

    I still think the massive Ent would have stayed upright, but I admit I’m glad we didn’t have to learn otherwise.

  26. says

    I’m in Central Illinois and we’ve been ravaged by the Emerald Ash Borer. Thousands of trees have been killed and cut down. I play disc golf at a local course that was heavily planted with Ash and it a barren landscape after the last couple of years. My brother lost one that was 4′ diameter at the ground.

    However, people who have had the trees removed from their yard have been able to keep the wood for firewood, as long as it stays local (within 50 miles). Just recently that restriction was removed…because all the Ash trees are dead.

  27. cartomancer says

    It would, of course, be a nice gesture of courtesy towards the planet to plant a couple more trees if this one does have to come down.

    I don’t know what the native arboreal flora of Minnesota is like, but the Ash is always a good choice. Yggdrasil was supposed to be an Ash tree, so you could consider it a tribute to your viking ancestors. And if Trump does win then Ragnarok will sweep it away with everything else anyway, so no harm done.

  28. magistramarla says

    In our neighborhood, it’s the evil oak wilt that is wiping out some beautiful and very old live oaks. Many of our neighbors have lost every tree in their yard. We talked to a tree surgeon. He told us that there is a preventative treatment, which some of our neighbors have been getting, but that it would be ineffective if we do it too early. We have to wait until the disease gets a bit closer to our trees.
    Our street used to be lined with live oaks, and the canopies made the entire street shady. Now, one end of the street is bare of trees, and many of the rest are in danger.

  29. bryanfeir says


    It would, of course, be a nice gesture of courtesy towards the planet to plant a couple more trees if this one does have to come down.

    That’s actually a legal requirement here in Toronto. Trees greater than 30cm(12″) across require a permit from the city to remove them, and getting that permit requires signing a form indicating that you will be planting a replacement tree of at least 50mm(2″) diameter or 1.75m(5’10”) height. You have to agree to replace the tree by the next planting season to get a permit to remove the old one.

    (I have a Manitoba Maple of about 35cm(14″) diameter that is planted right in the corner of the lot and is currently trying to undermine at least two different fences and a telephone pole, so I’ve been going through the process.)

    Toronto has a fairly active Urban Forestry program. You can actually get free trees from the city for the front yard as long as you only select from the approved list of local species.

  30. says

    They just took down most of the ash trees in our area because of the emerald ash borer. It looks kinda barren since so many were very large and had been here so long. I hope they plant some new trees, but I wonder what kind.
    Most new trees seem to be Rowan trees in the nearby neighborhoods.