Science Story

Elm Proceedings

Jane Hodgins
Northern Research Station
October 3rd, 2017 at 10:00AM

If you are old enough and grew up far enough away from Ohio, where Dutch elm disease was identified in the 1930s, you may remember a canopy of mature American elm arching above your street. Today that image exists only in photographs; Dutch elm disease long ago eliminated mature American elm from the city streets and northeastern forests of their native range.

Group learning about Dutch elm disease
A field trip which discussed Dutch elm disease.

For the past eight decades, scientists have pursued myriad research projects to combat Dutch elm disease. A new Northern Research Station publication captures historical insight into Dutch elm disease and American elm, including garnering unpublished knowledge of some of the scientists who were part of the “second front” of American elm research between 1960 and 1990.

The publication, “Proceedings of the American Elm Restoration Workshop 2016,” is a product of a workshop convened in 2016 by the Northern Research Station and the Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry program with support from the Manton Foundation. For three days, an interdisciplinary and international group of scientists with expertise in ecology, pathology, biology, arboriculture, and genetics discussed American elm resistance to Dutch elm disease.

The workshop covered a variety of topics relating to American elm restoration, including the Dutch elm disease pathogen, Dutch elm disease tolerance in elm trees, genetics and ecology of the elm species, other threats to American elm, other tools to combat Dutch elm disease, and practical aspects of restoration. Presentations given at the workshop, some of which are included in the new publication, described challenges to American elm restoration, recent advances in the field, and research needs.

The shared insights from different disciplines and experimental approaches accelerated work by the USDA Forest Service and partners aimed at developing regionally adapted populations of American elm trees that can tolerate disease. New Dutch elm disease-tolerant American elm trees with the notable characteristics of the species, such as beautiful and strong growth form, will be valuable for planting along city streets and in residential yards. A genetically diverse group of disease-tolerant elm trees will be useful to create seeds that can be used to grow trees for restoration of natural areas.

In addition to capturing scientists’ knowledge in a new publication, the workshop inspired ongoing conversations and collaborations that may benefit elm research for years to come.