Tree leaves Central Park to stretch its roots in China

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NEW YORK – The first time New Yorker Dave Karnosky saw a giant Chinese elm tree in the city’s Central Park, he knew he was looking at a special tree.

Twenty-five years later, the elm is no longer there. It was destroyed in 1993 after a battle with rotten wood and posed a danger to park visitors.

It was unfortunate, since the elm had already beat the odds and thrived in a climate that should have been too cold, and in an urban environment that should have been too harsh, and it grew to huge proportions, much larger than other Chinese elms.

It may have been destroyed, but it’s not down and out. The great elm, known as “Central Park Splendor,” is alive and well, and it’s living in China, its native land.

Karnosky, now a professor of forestry at Michigan Technological University, cloned the tree from leaf tissues he collected long ago, and he recently took 150 trees back to China. He delivered the small trees to scientists at three institutions, and by the next day they were already planted in various nurseries.

Karnosky told ABC News, “I thought this was really a neat thing to have preserved this tree and then sent it back to its homeland.”

Scientists there were eager to get it, he said, because the Central Park elm is especially cold hardy and might extend the elm’s range to northern China.

The 60-foot tree was believed to have been presented to New York City in the 1870s by the King of Prussia. It had caught the attention of the Arthur Ross Foundation because it appeared to be dying of old age, and would eventually have to be destroyed.

The foundation wanted to know if Karnosky could propagate the tree so that it could hang around longer, even if in different settings. This was considered a special tree because most Chinese elms were grown in southern climates, and this one thrived in New York.

After growing seedlings from clippings Karnosky collected in the park, today many of them are growing in various New York City parks, and so the Central Park Splendor lives.

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