WATERVILLE — A giant elm tree in Castonguay Square downtown that serves as an enduring reminder of the city’s historic nickname is in pretty good health thanks to meticulous care in recent years.

Noah Tucker, arborist representative for Bartlett Tree Experts of Scarborough, made that determination Wednesday after inspecting the tree at the request of City Manager Michael Roy, who said the city is trying to ensure that the more-than-a-century-old tree stays healthy and alive as a downtown landmark.

“As far as we know, this is by far the oldest elm in the Elm City,” Roy said.

Years ago, many elms lined the streets of the city, prompting its designation as the Elm City. But in the 1950s and ’60s, Dutch elm disease ravaged the trees, and the city had to cut them down.

“My cousin, Bob, lived just off Elm Street and remembers the sound of chainsaws taking down the elms, and he was nine or 10 and that was in the early ’60s,” Roy said.

The elm in Castonguay Square between Main and Front streets, nicknamed “Ellie” by Roy, is taller than City Hall to the north. Tucker and city officials estimate the tree is about 75 feet tall, 40 inches in diameter at its trunk and between 120 and 150 years old.

“As far as we know, this is by far the oldest elm in the Elm City.”

— City Manager Michael Roy

The tree stands just east of a temporary Christmas balsam tree installed recently in the square.

“We’ve been fertilizing it every year,” Tucker said. “We’ve been injecting a slow-release fertilizer for the tree’s health, and in the past we’ve also done Dutch Elm treatment.”

Tucker recommended the “girdling roots” at the base of the tree be removed because they are strangling and impacting the tree’s roots and that the mulch around the base be blown away to protect the roots. Otherwise, the tree appears healthy and a seam or opening in the bark along the north side of the tree is healing and closing over nicely, according to Tucker.

“They’ve been on top of it,” he said of city officials. “They’ve been proactive in the health of the tree.”

Asked if he has seen larger elms than the one in Castonguay Square, Tucker said there was one in Yarmouth and one in Scarborough, but both were removed, as there were problems with them and they were near roads.

“You have a large green space here and you’re not impacting the root zone and that’s key and the less equipment you put near it the better off you’ll be,” he said.

All in all, the city’s tree has been low-maintenance, according to Tucker, who said he pruned it four or five years ago.

“Since then, every three years we’ve been injecting the tree for Dutch Elm Disease,” he said. “All things considered, it’s in pretty good health.”

Joining Tucker outside City Hall Wednesday morning to look at and discuss the tree were Roy, Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan, City Hall custodian Dave Higgins and City Engineer Greg Brown.

Roy said afterward that he was pleased with Tucker’s report. “I think it shows that the attention we started paying to it five years ago was probably a good thing,” Roy said.

He said a question he has is whether the tree was planted there or just grew there, as elms were likely native to the city. He said he knows of a couple of other elm trees remaining, including one at Eustis Parkway and North Street near Thayer Center for Health.

“I’d be happy if other people could give us an inventory of what else is left for elm trees in the city,” Roy said. “Maybe we could take some of the same measures to protect what we do have.”

Skehan also said he was pleased with Tucker’s report on Ellie.

“I’m encouraged to hear the tree is in relatively good shape and that we’re doing everything we can to ensure that it stays in good shape,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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