Wetherfield elm  Colby Rucker
  Jul 26, 2003 04:24 PDT 


Your reference to the Wetherfield elm set me to looking through my library for
anything more on its size or structure.

Although Peattie (1950) gives, on p. 240, the height as 102 feet, spread "about
150 feet," and a girth of 41 feet at breast height, that girth appears to be in

Frank H. Lamb, Book of the Broadleaf Trees (1939), p.236, states the tree was
97' feet tall, spread of 165 feet, and 29 1/2 feet in circumference at the
ground. A fine photograph on p. 192 shows a large flaring base, so the above
circumference appears to have been taken higher.

Dr. Ferdinand C. Lane, in The Story of Trees (1952) p.66, quotes a circumference
of 29 feet.

The Internet has the text from a 1967 Illinois nature bulletin, which states the
height was 97 feet, spread 147 feet, and the girth at 4 1/2 feet was 30 feet 3

The AF list for Sept. 1955 lists the champion as a tree near Trigonia, Blount
County, Tennessee - 24' 7", 160' high, spread 147' (points would have been 494).
Since the Wethersfield elm would have (by the 1967 bulletin) have had 503
points, it may once have been a national champion.

The 1955 AF list also has a photograph of the Wethersfield elm, with the
caption, "Down and out. All the arts of tree surgery failed to save the famous
Wethersfield elm, which died in 1950." The photo shows a flaring base, a
"waist" at about breast height, several large leads with the lowest fork about
12 feet up, and three large injuries about 20' up filled with concrete.

The injuries are explained by Lamb, who states, "On the morning after the
hurricane of 1938, only four of its six magnificent branches, one of them
fortunately the largest, seventeen feet in girth, were left standing."

The structure of the tree, said to have been planted in 1758, might, in other
pictures, be taken to be more simple, essentially three leads. An illustration
on p.29 of the 1949 Yearbook of Agriculture (Trees) is quite misleading. The
forks appear too high, the trunk is uninspired, and the crown, though apparently
intact, is sparsely limbed.

A very handsome print, ca. 10" x 12", by George Goodlad Vogt, from nearly the
same angle, shows much more complex nuances of contour, a less regular basal
flare, and a more pronounced "waist". The treatment of the crown, in ample
leaf, is very fine.

An excellent photograph before 1938 by Staley G. Cole appears on p. 192 of
Lamb's Book of the Hardwood Trees. This appears to have been taken to the left
of the above depictions, causing the forks to appear lower, with three primary
leads arising from an immense mass of wood above a smaller "waist". The left
and lowest lead is at a considerable angle, and may be a limb upturned early on,
accentuating the "waist." This is also shown in the AF photograph, which
appears to have been taken from the opposite side.

So, overall, a truly magnificent tree, open grown, with an overpowering crown.
Cole's photograph is the best, and indicates the tree was single-trunked, but
took advantage of the available space to divide low. To be fair, the diameter
of the trunk makes the various leads to appear lower than they actually were.
The most inclined lead may have originated below breast height, but everything
considered, there wasn't anything "unfair" about the trunk, which appears (from
the newsletter) to have been 30 feet 3 inches. For a tree with a "waist,"
that's mighty impressive.

The elm near Trigonia, Tennessee was pretty impressive too, but the AF record
shows it excelled in all three categories. The 24' 7" cbh may have been a
single trunk, and the 147' spread seems possible for an elm, but not in
combination with a 160' height. It's obviously another case of false top
triangulation, and there's no reason to believe the height was greater than the
Wethersfield elm's 97 feet.

That would put the Tennessee tree back to 431 AF points, nowhere near the
503-point Connecticut specimen.   I've only seen two Maryland trees as large;
the Wye Oak in its prime, and the great southern red oak which stood at Cedar
Park, here in Anne Arundel County.