Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Camperdown Elm, Powell Campus Center

One of the first things I noticed while touring Alfred University as a prospective college was the tree in front of the Powell Campus Center. This tree reminded me of something from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, with a creepy mystical quality to its shape and size. The "Umbrella" tree in front of the PCC was planted around 1905. There were three of these Umbrella Trees, or "Camperdown Elm" trees on campus, one removed in 1974 "due to ill health", and one on the site of the Herrick Memorial Library (Herrick Archives and Special Collections).
The first Camperdown Elm was cultivated around 1835, when the Earl of Camperdown's gardener discovered a branch growing from the ground. He decided to graft the branch to the trunk of a Wych Elm, creating a hybrid tree that cannot reproduce from seed, making these specimens even more rare and exciting. "Every Camperdown Elm in the world is from a cutting taken from that original mutant cutting and is usually grafted on a Wych elm trunk" (Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii')
In comparison to "normal" trees such as regular elm or pine, the Camperdown Elm is quite grotesque. It is a wonder that these trees were planted as 'rarities' in gardens elite and extensive enough to have tree collections.
Students today are so preoccupied with cell phones, social networking and public image that they overlook details in their surroundings such as the Camperdown Elm on the Alfred University campus. When planted I imagine it must have been quite an oddity to townsfolk and visitors alike. The Camperdown Elm in front of the Powell Campus Center is even more interesting now that it is the only one left, making it unique and rare.
Another interesting fact is that there is also a Camperdown Elm on the Smith College campus in Northampton, Massachusetts, the town from which I originated.

No comments:

Post a Comment