The Umbrella Tree

Camperdown Elm May 2011

The “Umbrella Tree” is a beloved landmark on the Alfred University campus. Frequently it’s a temporary home to students nestled in its branches or artwork hanging from its limbs. Found in front of the Powell Campus Center it was planted circa 1905. Originally it sat in front of Kenyon Memorial Hall, the first building on this site. It once had a “twin” located just a few yards away that was removed in 1974 due to ill health. A third one was once located next to the School of Theology building (The Gothic), currently the site of Herrick Memorial Library.

While many on campus refer to it as the Umbrella Tree, its true identity is a Camperdown Elm or a Weeping Elm. The “Earl of Camperdown”, in Dundee Scotland, noticed in 1840 a branch growing on the floor of his elm forest. He grafted it to a scotch elm tree and it took hold producing the first Camperdown Elm. The scotch elm is the only root mass that the Camperdown will grow on. As a mutant it cannot self reproduce. Every Camperdown Elm tree in the world is a part of the original that must be grafted to a scotch elm tree to get started. When the graft starts to grow, the scotch elm branches are cut off leaving only the Camperdown Elm. This magnificent tree depends on humankind to keep it alive as a species.

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