"Twenty Minute Killer"
By James W. Tucker
Hampton Union, Thursday, August 2, 1956
Many features contribute to the air of charm and distinction borne by our town. The graceful stately elms, which shade nearly all of our streets, are by no means the least of these features. Yet our elm trees apparently are doomed eventually to vanish from the New England scene, just as the popular chestnut tree of our youth was blighted into oblivion many years ago. The scourge of our beautiful shade trees is the Dutch elm disease and it is raising particular havoc right now.
Arc We Too Late?
On Thursday, April 14, 1955 we told in this column of the inroads which this arboreal scourge was just then beginning to make on Hampton elms and of the three trees which have been lost at that time. Today, fifteen months later, many more trees have been removed and burned. Others have been marked for removal. But it may be that from a remedial standpoint we have again arrived too late with too little.
Apathy and Indifference
Fifteen months ago we said: "As we have been writing these paragraphs about the real danger of losing all of our elm trees, we have been thinking about the incontrovertible fact that this message will be received with apathy and indifference. It will fall on deaf ears. The aesthetic side of warning will be shrugged off with the it — the sentimental aspect of this serious thought — this does not concern me personally; let the constituted authorities take care of the problem. But it does concern you personally. This is your town! These are your trees!"
Faint Hope of Interest
And we went on to write: "Even the practical aspects of the situation which involves the heavy public and private cost of taking down, trucking away and burning dead elms will not have sufficient appeal to move the average citizen. And neither will the fact that real estate values are adversely affected by the loss of shade trees. And there you are — people just don't give a little darn about the danger of the Dutch elm disease. But we have a faint hope — a very dim hope — that perhaps a few men and women who are fully conscious of their citizenship responsibilities, will read this warning, appreciate its significance and take the proper action which will result in saving our town's beautiful elms."
That was fifteen months ago. With the exception of Eloise Lane Smith, we heard from no one who was interested in a community problem which, in the meantime, has grown progressively worse in spite of the cooperation of state and local officials. Mrs. Smith did everything within her limited powers to acquaint friends and officials with the sentimental and practical meaning of the threatened loss of Hampton's wonderful old elms. But aside from this gracious lady's interest, the message, as we had predicted, was received with apathy and indifference.
A Community Project
Now, this job of saving Hampton's elms, if, indeed it is now humanly possible to save them, has got to be a community project. It will take more than a few state officials and our selectmen. First, folks must be alerted to the danger. Then, several things must be ascertained. (1) Because of the rapid spread of the deadly Dutch elm disease locally during the past year and a half, is it now possible to save the remaining trees? (2) How do we go about it? (3) What will it cost? (4) Where will the money come from?
"Save Hampton's Elms"
All of this information should be available twenty miles away at the University of New Hampshire. The "Save Hampton Elms" campaign might well be a special project of the alert, capable and civic-minded member of the Hampton Garden Club. They certainly should be able to look for complete and wholehearted cooperation in the way of both personal service and financial support from every civic, service, social, patriotic, religious and fraternal organization in our town. What citizen of our town is not deeply interested in saving Hampton's elms, including that ancient and historic tree at Elmwood Corner?
Not Magnifying Danger
Maybe you think we are magnifying the danger! Perhaps an attitude of smug complacency convinces you that because Hampton's elms have stood for centuries, they will stand for more centuries. Maybe you believe that our streets could not be denuded of the stately, arching elms that shade and beautify them. If so, take another minute to read about how this deadly "Twenty Minute Killer" works.
"Twenty Minute Killer"
The Dutch elm disease is caused by a fungus, the deadly spores of which can climb by means of a tree's sap from the base of the trunk to the topmost branches in only twenty minutes. It is absolutely fatal. When it hits it can reduce a great Hampton elm to the equivalent of a black tree skeleton in a few short weeks. How are these deadly spores carried from tree to tree? By the elm bark beetle, a tiny insect only about an eighth of an inch long, which lives in the bark of elm wood.
Swarming of Beetles
Come spring, around the first of April, elm bark beetles may fly to nearby healthy trees and bore into the underbark of trunks and limbs. If it happens that these pests have been spending the winter in the bark of an elm infested with the "twenty minute killer," they carry the spores of this deadly Dutch elm disease on their bodies. These spores rub off on the wounds in the healthy tree caused by the little beetles as they bore their way into the bark. Then the spores get into the sap and that's the end of another tree.
First Control Method
To control this deadly tree disease, which now seriously menaces all of our town's elms, it is necessary to control the elm bark beetle. Dead and diseased trees in which the pest thrives must be sought out, taken down, trucked away and burned. That's the only sure method of controlling the beetle which carries the spore of this "Twenty minute killer." Leave one diseased tree standing and in the spring, the beetles which infest it will contaminate many healthy trees in that vicinity.
Second Control Method
Community-wide spraying is costly, but if there has been neglect in removing diseased trees, it may be necessary also to adopt this method of control. This necessitate the spraying of every elm with a special DDT dormant spray BEFORE the spring swarming of the beetles.
Great Asset In Danger
The elms in our town are one of the community's best assets. Unless immediately community-wide interest is aroused in controlling the Dutch elm disease, which even now is ravaging them, our elms will be lost. Don't think it can't happen here for it has already happened in many communities west of the Appalachians. Let's at least make a valiant attempt to save our elm trees, first by getting all the facts from experts who are competent to advise and second, by acting on that advice. It had better be done now! Tomorrow may be too late!
P.S. Since writing the foregoing we have learned from Town Manager True that trees infested with the Dutch elm disease that will have to be taken down and burned, number at least forty. On Tuesday morning, a crew was busily engaged in cutting down two elm trees just east of Elmwood Corner. Nearby, tacked to the huge trunk of the 210 year old (?) Hampton Elm, was a tag reading, "Special Attention, N.H. Dept. of Agriculture." And the tag was stamped with a red number "730." What the tag means we do not know. We hope it does not necessarily mean that our town's historic elm has been stricken with the "Twenty Minute Killer."
[See also, Historic 'Old Elm' Tree Marked For Destruction, Hampton Union, August 2, 1956
and; Dutch Elm Disease, Hampton Union, August 2, 1956]