American Liberty Elms

by Doug Smay

The San Diego Chapter, U.S. Submarine Veterans of WW II, took a giant step towards creating our 52 Boats Memorial at NTC with the purchase on Tuesday, January 29th 2002, of 52 American Liberty Elm trees. These trees, with a value of over $9600, were purchased from Floresta, a faith based non-profit organization that operates a "Johnny Appleseed Regional Nursery" in San Diego for the American Liberty Elm under the auspices of the nonprofit Elm Research Institute of Westmoreland, New Jersey.

Some may remember, or at least have seen pictures of streets lined with beautiful Elm trees in the East and Midwest in the 20’s and 30’s. This magnificent tree species was virtually wiped out in the U.S. by Dutch Elm Disease (C. ulmi fungus). It is estimated that more than 100 million Elm trees were destroyed by the disease!

Work on a DED resistant American Elm began at Cornell University in 1933. Seedlings were collected from various regions of the country and grown and screened for resistance to the disease. In the mid-1940’s surviving trees were moved to Ithaca, NY where screening continued until 1965. All surviving trees were then inoculated more than seven times in at least five different years with live C. ulmi fungus. In the 60’s the Elm Research Institute began funding this university research to find a Dutch Elm Disease resistant American Elm. The result, after more than 50 years of research, is the American Liberty Elm. Not to be confused with Asian or European hybrids, the American Liberty Elm is a true American Elm (Ulmus Americana). Our Elms will be direct descendants of six parent trees. These six trees are descended from over 60,000 trees that survived repeated inoculations of live C. ulmi fungus. The six parent trees are all genetically different from one another. All six are classic American Elms and even a trained botanist would have difficulty distinguishing between them. In fact, to be certain would require DNA analysis. Our 52 trees will be a mix of these six cultivars. Their genetic differences provide diversity. Having six cultivars in the series is insurance against all the trees being wiped out by any disease that might show up in the future. The six strains are kept pure through vegetative propagation, and all have a natural resistance to Dutch Elm Disease. More than a quarter of a million of these tress have been planted in 750 communities in all areas of the country, including San Diego. Although the Liberty Elm cannot be said to be completely immune to Dutch Elm Disease, it is strongly resistant. In the 18 years that the trees have been planted, fewer than 100 trees (0.04%) have been infected. Each tree carries a warranty against Dutch Elm Disease and any tree that is infected will be replaced by The Elm Research Institute.

The American Liberty Elm was named after "The Liberty Tree", our country’s first symbol of freedom. On the morning of August 14, 1765, the people of Boston awakened to discover two effigies suspended from an Elm tree in protest of the hated Stamp Act. From that day forward that Elm became known as the “Liberty Tree”. For the next ten years it stood in silent witness to countless meetings, speeches and celebrations, and often served as the rallying place for the Sons of Liberty. In August of 1775, as a last act of violence prior to their evacuation from Boston, British soldiers cut it down because it bore the name Liberty.

In 1999, No Greater Love, a non-profit Humanitarian organization, planted an 11 year-old, 25 foot tall American Liberty Elm on the U.S. Capitol grounds in honor of Sen. Robert Kerry, D-Nebraska, commemorating the thirteenth anniversary of his receipt of the Congressional Medal of Honor as a member of a U.S. Navy SEAL Team.

There could hardly be a more appropriate tree to stand in silent memorial to the men of the Submarine Force who gave their lives fighting to preserve our precious liberty.