Sally and I celebrated the Fourth of July with our daughter and son-in-law in Oklahoma City. While there, we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. What a lovely and moving place. Things like this make me so proud to be an American. I truly believe that there has never been another group of people that can better come together after a tragedy and turn it into a silver lining. While there is no doubt that what Timothy McVeigh did on that April day was horrible, the people of Oklahoma rose above it and created a lovely and peaceful place that memorializes those lost and celebrates the sacrifice of the volunteers that turned the horror of that day into a place where all can celebrate the indomitable American Spirit.
Two minutes after Timothy McVeigh lit the fuse of his bomb, 168 men, women and small children were gone; so was the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. An additional 300 buildings in the downtown area were damaged. About the only thing left standing at the blast site was a large American Elm tree that is now called “The Survivor’s Tree”. This tree is now the center piece of a horticultural tribute to resilience of the American people.
Elm trees in general are incredibly hardy trees. One example in Ontario, Canada grew to 140’ tall. Elms can take extreme cold, extreme heat and endure extreme drought. At the beginning of the last century they were the most commonly planted tree in America. However, around 1928, disaster struck in the form of a small black beetle that spread a fungus called “Dutch Elm” disease. This disease decimated elm populations that had no resistance to this Asian invader. Dutch Elm Disease is still a serious problem. However, if you have the money, there are now treatments that can save an infected elm if the infection is caught soon enough.
If you are a Texan and you have an affinity for these hardy trees, you are in luck. Texas has a native elm that is very resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. In fact, the Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) is resistant to most pests. While its leaves are sometimes nibbled by the Elm Leaf Beetles, there is not much else that bothers it. This cedar elm makes a great shade tree and it is extremely drought tolerant.
According to my friend Morgan McBride of Tree Town USA, cedar elms are a great choice for most Texas landscapes. These lovely trees are covered in small, oval, serrated leaves that are rough to the touch and turn yellow in the fall. They can grow in sandy soils and in thick clay soils. In fact they can even grow in the highly compacted soils that are common in urban areas. These adaptable trees have a moderate growth rate and only require a moderate amount of water to thrive. They can grow to 60’ tall and develop a spread of over 40’.
Cedar elms develop a deep root system that allows them to withstand drought and most windstorms. If you go to a nursery and ask for an elm for your yard, you need to insist on the cedar elm. Many nurseries stock the Chinese Lacebark Elm and will often offer it as a substitute. While the tree does have a lovely rough bark, it develops a shallow root system that makes it easy prey for windstorms. Also, the Chinese Lacebark is susceptible to cotton root rot. Because of this, you are taking a risk if you plant it anywhere in our state that once grew cotton (and since most of our state once grew cotton, you really need to think about this when you make your elm choice).
Like the people of Oklahoma, elm trees were attacked and decimated by an unexpected enemy. However, they survived. Now this American classic is making a comeback. I love elm trees and I am so glad that the people of Oklahoma saved their “The Survivor Tree”. This deep rooted, dependable and resilient tree is the perfect centerpiece for a memorial that is dedicated to faith, healing and the resilience of the American spirit.