Festival Of Trees (#45) Nature Notes (#45)~New England’s Oldest Elm Tree, ‘Herbie’ Is No More

Festival of the Trees

This is the weekly Nature Notes & Signs of the Season Meme

and for the Monthly Festival of Trees (Festival 44).

This story caught my eye as we have been watching a beautiful elm tree on our next door neighbor’s lawn die from dutch elm disease. The tree predated this housing development and the woman who has lived in the house for over 25 years didn’t even know she that it was an elm tree let alone that it was dying. No care here has given care to most of the trees on this street heavily damaged from an ice storm 3 years ago. We were the only people who hired a certified aborist to come and trim our damaged trees. The rest of the trees stand as  broken, jagged reminders of what was once a lovely tree lined street.

Can’t we have a little more tree love?

New England’s largest and oldest elm tree, which has stood in Yarmouth, MA was cut down Tuesday, a victim of Dutch elm disease. Known as Herbie, the 110 foot tree was estimated at 240 years old and came down before a crowd of onlookers that included its caretaker for a half-century, Frank Knight, who is 101.

Afterward,Frank Knight was greeted with a round of applause as he joined a crowd that gathered around the tree’s stump. Steadied with a cane, Knight watched a state official count the tree’s rings.

A preliminary count of growth rings by Peter Lammert of the Maine Forest Service indicated that Herbie the elm tree was 212 years old. A precise age will be announced after the trunk is sanded smooth and examined under magnification, Lammert said.

Judging by the revised age, it’s now believed Herbie sprouted around 1798, not long after the 13 original colonies gained their independence and shipbuilding had taken root on the shores of Yarmouth MA. Over the years, generations of residents passed under the shade tree.

photo-John Patriquin

And more than 50 years, Frank Knight took care of Herbie. He saw the tree through 15 bouts with Dutch elm disease, spraying, pruning, picking off bugs, doing whatever he could to keep the massive tree alive.

As a man who has worked with trees his entire life, Knight knew that Herbie’s current case of Dutch elm was fatal, and that the tree had be taken down. It’s the right thing to do, but not an easy thing to do.

Of course I’m sad, but everything’s got to go,” said Knight, who is 101 years old and was Yarmouth’s tree warden for 50 years. “It’s pret-near my time, too. I’m just glad we had Herbie all these years.”

Knight began as tree warden when a rash of Dutch elm disease was breaking out in 1956. A couple of years later, he and others in town had to cut down 100 elms that had the disease. Knight, Yarmouth’s volunteer tree warden, realized he couldn’t save the town’s elms, which were dying by the hundreds from the fungal disease. So he focused his efforts on one tree – the giant elm with a straight trunk and sturdy branches at the corner of East Main Street and Yankee Drive.

Knight worked year after year to keep it alive. Besides strategic prunings, it got inoculations of a fungicide, every three years at first, then every year.

“It’s been cut about 13 times because of disease, but it was such a beautiful tree,” said Knight. “There were some bigger, but none more beautiful, with that nice straight trunk.”

Knight thinks it’s funny that stories about him and Herbie make him look like “the biggest tree lover.”

Having been a pulpwood dealer and a woodlot owner, Knight said, he probably “has taken down more trees than anyone in Maine.

This is a 3 minute video of Frank Knight talking lovingly about Herbie. “Its time has come and mine is about due, too. I’m 101,” he said with typically New England directness.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “First Person: Man, 101, Loses Battle …“, posted with vodpod

The town web site has more than you ever wanted to know about Herbie, including a way to order Herbie tee shirts and a poetic ode to the defunct tree.

While Herbie was big, it wasn’t the nation’s tallest elm. There’s a taller one in Baltimore County, Md., and it’s possible that a new champion elm, in Ohio, will be crowned this year by American Forests, which keeps tabs on big trees, according to Jan Ames Santerre, Maine’s tall tree coordinator.

What are you seeing out and about in your yard? Did you read or see something on television that struck a chord with you about nature? Write a blog post about it and link back to here..

This week’s participants.
Eileen-Loch Raven
Carver-Warming Up Considerably
Stine-White-breasted Nuthatch
Caron-Ice Storm
QuiltWorks-Follow The Poop
Cheryl-Broccoli Fields
Jill-Trinidad & Tobago
Vicki-Ice, Ice Baby
Crafty Green Poet-Dark Mountain – carbon, nature and culture
Crafty Green Post-snowdrops (haiku)
Nicole-Friday birding at the Jolie ville golf course
Eva-My View Today

41 thoughts on “Festival Of Trees (#45) Nature Notes (#45)~New England’s Oldest Elm Tree, ‘Herbie’ Is No More

    • You did Lin? I really didn’t pay attention to the health of our trees until this terrible ice storm that damaged 90% of our area’s trees. Just awful. And then watching this beautiful elm just die when there are things you can do if you catch it soon enough… 😦


  1. It’s always so sad to see big trees come down. We’ve had a rash of Dutch Elm Disease in Illinois, too. Our chestnut tree which is huge in Illinois is going to have to come down in spring. We’ll have to go there and help organize it. Our neighbor’s car went out of gear and came across the street and dinged our tree about 15 years ago. We thought it would be OK but then in the last few years, disease set in and now it’s hanging on by a thread and will need to be removed. It’s so sad. We loved that tree even though another neighbor next door complained about the leaves. They never complained about the shade it provided in summer though. Oh dear…. I’m going on and on.

    I just feel sad when we have to lose our big trees.


  2. It’s a sad story, but also a happy one. I’m glad that Herbie had such a fine care-taker. It’s very sad that others on your street do not seem to care, or understand the need to care for trees.


  3. What an interesting story. It is sad to see old trees go but I liked Herbie’s matter of fact attitude about it after having cared for the tree for so long.

    When I first moved into my house I had 4 oak trees in my front yard and at first was sad when I had to have one removed because it was diseased and died. However, after getting it out I realized that the three remaining oaks were really more than enough to canopy my front yard. My back is where I have a sun garden although I have a few smaller trees back there too. I LOVE trees.

    When hurricane fran ripped through my town I lost a maple but what really got me was after some neighbors were frightened by trees landing on houses (it was terrible), I felt some overreacted by cutting down healthy trees. Our coast is often subject to hurricanes but having one rip into central NC is a once in a lifetime event or it is the first one I know of that hit my town. I’m willing to risk having the large oaks in front of my house.


    • Carver…we had our largest silver maple nearest to the house cabled instead of taking it down after the 2006 ice storm. The wires will keep it from falling on the house, but here too people went chain-saw crazy with no plan. The trees that were damaged needed professional help… A guy from FEMA said that it looked just like the damage one would see from a hurricane.


  4. It is amazing to me that a tree can be that old and have been seen and touched by so many people. I had heard about this story. I think we had Dutch Elm disease here in town a number of years ago.


  5. Big trees, old trees, are one of my passions. I revere them. And yet eventually they succomb to storm or disease. The most tenacious big trees I know of are the Pacific Coast Western Red Cedars, which can continue to live even hollow and mostly dead. They are amazing.


  6. I just saw that story on the news! My parents had a beautiful, big elm tree in their back yard. I used to swing from its branches. I LOVED that tree! I’m going to look for an elm to plant here in my yard to remember Herbie!


  7. Herbie was truly an old ent. It is sad that this mighty elm secumbed to disease and had to be cut down. Nice that someone cared enough to care for this giant all those years. Maybe this will inspire more people in the neighborhood to care for the precious trees. Great post Michelle.


  8. I hate to see a big tree taken down, but it’s quite a testament to the man who kept it going all those years. I do hope they are able to mill some lumber from that “nice straight trunk” and make something memorable out Herbie’s remains.


  9. I enjoyed this story of Frank and Herbie. I think Frank’s love for the tree kept him going and living. People don’t realize the value of trees,how long it takes to grow them and what good things they do for our atmosphere and our souls.

    Something strange is going on here in east Texas, the frogs are chirping at night. I have never seen this happen in the winter. Hubs says it means more cold weather. What do you think, Michelle. Of course this has been one of the coldest winters in about fifteen years. Now it is heating up a bit and then gets cold. I wish it would make up it’s mind. Then again if you don’t like the weather in Texas just wait a few days and it changes again.


    • Funny you should mention frogs chirping as my pet frog has been singing for a mate and I keep telling him that it’s January. Most animals judge spring by the length of the day more than the temps, but maybe your frogs are confused..I am going to see what I can find out about it Pam…


  10. I just today looked at the pictures of a gorgeous old tree they cut down a few years ago in our neighbourhood (Hungary).
    I didn’t really realize that diseases can kill trees.
    Such a shame for such a great tree.


  11. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing an ancient tree coming down. I always think – if only they could talk, all the things they have seen in over two hundred years. I remember when Dutch Elm Disease hit England, seeing rows of trees cut down, such a shame.


  12. Lovely post – such an interesting story – amazing to think what has happened during Herbie’s lifetime. And Frank, too – no sentimentality but lots of caring. Thanks for the post. And thanks for stopping by over at Out walking the dog.


  13. Thank you for visiting my web-site & leaving such a nice comment. I have been following this particular tree since it hit the news. There are people in Australia who are sad that Herbie had to be chopped down & sad for the lovely Frank Knight as well. I admire him so much for saving this tree 15 times. We don’t (to my knowledge) have trees anywhere near as large as this in urban areas in Sydney. I imagine Herbie was extremely special to the neighbourhood & will be sorely missed. It’s great to see such care, concern & interest toward trees in an urban setting. Yours is a great blog & the advice on how to manage an injured bird is very helpful.


  14. Thank you so much for calling over at my Land&Lit blog. I love the way that the Festival of the Trees unites us all. What a tree-tale you have told. I was particularly fascinated by the rings. It will be interesting to see what the final answer is. If trees could speak, what tales they would have to tell…


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