South Shore Park iconic tree in dire straits?
September 1, 2016
By Katherine Keller
One of Bay View’s landmarks is the magnificent European Copper Beech tree on the northern edge of South Shore Park on E. Estes Street. Residents have expressed concern that the revered tree appears to be in poor health, evidenced this summer by a canopy of dead leaves.
“This beautiful tree is at a stage in its life that it is over-mature,” said Gregg Collins, forestry supervisor for the Milwaukee County Parks system.
It is believed that the European Copper Beech was introduced to North America during the colonial period and that the tree in South Shore Park was planted in the mid-1800s. That would make the tree about 160 years old.
In arborist terms, an over-mature tree is one that has exceeded its typical lifespan. It’s the human equivalent of age 105, Collins said.
“In the past four years we have lost several large limbs/leads. Each time this occurred, we have responded by removing any damaged lead and making clean pruning cuts,” Collins said.
During the same timeframe he observed missing bark at the base of the trunk that indicated tissue dieback, even though the tree had a very vigorous full leaf canopy in past years.
Last year two more large limbs failed and there was a noticeable thinning of the leaf canopy. So Collins contacted Wachtel Tree Science to help make a full diagnosis. “We both observed canopy thinning, gypsy moths, aphids, carpenter ants, tissue dieback, and the presence of a fungal infection,” he said.
He said the beech is a very old tree with many forces working against it, and worst of those may be the fungal infection. Fungal infections can disrupt the cambium flow. The cambium is a thin cellular layer that produces tissue that makes the roots, trunk, and branches grow thicker.
“Last year we treated the tree with an antifungal, ant killer, compost tea, mulch, and water. This year we have watched it, added mulch, and watered the root zone,” he said.
The hot dry weeks in June, July, and August exacerbated the tree’s stress.
This year the canopy continued to thin and by midsummer, the majority of the remaining leaves died.
Forestry staff will water the stately icon again this summer. Collins said he hopes its roots are viable and that it will rebound next year. “I don’t want to immediately assume that it is dead and remove it in case it makes a recovery,” he said.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources keeps a record of “champion trees,” the largest in the state. The DNR records indicate that the champion beech in South Shore Park was last measured in 2007. At the time, the tree was 183 inches (15.25 feet) in circumference and was the second-highest rated European Copper Beech in the state.
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