Photos and text by Karl Merton Ferron
What began as a quest to find the city’s more notable trees became a reflection on the cycle of life. Using a list of large trees in the city from the website mdbigtrees.com the search revealed a number of longtime landmarks are now now gone. Those listings reflect a living and ever-changing directory: Druid Hill Park’s iconic Osage Orange tree (Maclura pomifera) was toppled by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; an English Elm (Ulmus campestris) planted in the early 1700s was removed from the grounds of the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine building when it threatened Davidge Hall in 2002; and an 87-foot-tall Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) in Herring Run Park which was killed when a set of porta potties set up below its branches were torched.
Of those notable trees living today, there are still concerns for their health, like the “Frederick Douglas Tree,” an English Elm that some people believe had been planted by Douglass when he was a child. The orator addressed Baltimoreans beneath the same limbs, in 1878. Residents claim that its larger branches have begun breaking off. Cylburn Arboretum’s champion Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) advances toward its final day in a quiet corner west of the mansion, while workers planted 62 young trees around the grounds. Believed to have been mortally struck by too much water to its roots, the Sugar Maple stands just two miles from what’s believed to be Baltimore’s only “Monkey Puzzle Tree” the victim of a recent drought. Its owners must wait for an official determination whether their Chilean Pine (Araucaria araucana) is now dead. Glad that a photographer happened to visit to document their evergreen’s final days standing, the tree’s demise is one of the sadder things they’ve experienced, after planting the sapling – a housewarming gift – more than 30 years ago.