By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — After Dutch Elm Disease entered the United States in 1931, 77 million American Elm trees died.
Thanks to Colfax resident Jim Eggert, American Elm trees are returning to Colfax.
Two years ago, Eggert donated two disease-resistant American Elms — one was planted on school district property and one was planted at the Colfax Fairgrounds.
This year, Eggert has donated two more disease-resistant American Elms.
Students from Mark Mosey’s Global Science class at Colfax High School planted one of the trees at the village park on the Red Cedar River April 30 and planted the second tree at Evergreen Cemetery in Colfax May 1.
“It got started with an article I read years ago in Audubon called ‘the Return of An American Classic,’” Eggert said.
“The National Arboretum in DC had been experimenting with real, genuine American Elms and they found some examples of disease-resistant individuals. They took cuttings from those and subjected them to the (Dutch Elm) disease and they survived just fine to ten years of that or more.” he said.
“I called down to the Arboretum, and they said in ten or 20 years, we’ll have trees ready for purchase. I’ve been waiting. I’d like to plant at least one every year and bring that tree back to Colfax, and maybe other communities. We can do it now. We can bring back a diseased tree that had been decimated over the years. That feels good,” Eggert said.
“And the kids who plant them will see that tree someday, and they can say, ‘I helped plant that tree and it’s doing fine.’ … It will be part of the next generation,” he added.
Eggert purchased the disease-resistant American Elms from the Bob-o-Link Nursery just west of Menomonie.
According to the article, “The Return of an American Classic” (1997; Les Line), American Elms that were one hundred feet high were common before the Dutch Elm Disease epidemic.
“Patriarch” elms reached as high as 140 feet tall and had trunks as big as 11 feet in diameter, the article notes.
The Dutch Elm Disease fungus is spread by bark beetles, and according to the article, only one in 100,000 trees will be naturally resistant to the DED fungus.
The fungus, identified by scientists in the Netherlands in the 1920s, came to the United States in 1931 on a shipload of elm logs imported from France by furniture makers in Ohio.
As it turned out, the American Elm was much more susceptible to the disease than elms in Europe and Asia, according to the article.
By 1994, candidates that could be sold to wholesale nurseries had been narrowed down to ten clones.
Out of those ten clones, New Harmony and Valley Forge were the most disease resistant, the article states.
The name New Harmony comes from the village of New Harmony, Indiana, located on the Wabash River. New Harmony was known in the 1800s as a center for social and scientific progress. Valley Forge refers to the camp in Pennsylvania near Philadelphia where George Washington’s army survived the winter of 1778. The Valley Forge elm is a tough survivor, like Washington’s army.
Students in Mark Mosey’s Global Science class who planted the trees were Andrew Friederes, Lydia Almquist, Tyler Jackson and David Blanchard.