City Trees

November/December 2020

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an unparalleled view across the Hudson River to the Palisades, Wave Hill has a storied past, including notable occupants such as Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. The latter said of the estate: "I believe we have the noblest roaring blasts here I have ever known on land; they sing their hoarse song through the big tree-tops with a splendid energy that thrills me and stirs me and uplifts me and makes me want to live always." Copper might be a slight mischaracterization for the hue of the tree's leaves, which can change over the course of a season from a reddish purple in spring to blackish purple by summer. The deciduous, simple leaf is elliptic and blunt, appearing wavy, with five to nine veins on each side. Each copper beech presents itself slightly differently in color and shape. When I visited Wave Hill's copper beeches recently they were really more full forest green with only a slight metallic tinge. As for those "knees," the older trunks have bulges and burls that are quite unlike any other tree, with a silvery grey bark. (Beech lover Dirr writes of "a beauty unmatched by the bark of other trees.") Something about that bark begs for carved personal nomenclature. At Wave Hill, the trunk of one tree has been pretty well graffiti-gouged, while the other cousin is pristine. A mysterious ailment known as Beech Leaf Disease has begun to prey on Fagus. The damage starts with a dark staining of the leaves and leads to their shriv- eling and eventually tree death; so far it has been recorded in Ohio and Pennsylvania and parts of Ontario, Canada. Another affliction, Beech Bark Disease, caused by a sap-feeding scale and a fungus, has already killed 2.5 million beech trees. "Three on the north half of Wave Hill have succumbed to beech bark disease in the past fifteen years," says Bauer. For flowers, copper beech offers a small female cluster and a male cluster that hangs on a shorter stem than that of the American beech. The nut has long, angular sides and a deep brown color, encased in a bristly husk. Beech nuts can be consumed by deer and bears as well as by birds and rodents—and by humans, who have been known to roast and brew them in place of coffee. A nice place to drink a cup would be under the sweeping, twisted, copper-colored branches of an "Elephant Tree." Ghost of Mark Twain, you are cordially invited. 40 CityTREES The other Wave Hill "cousin"; this one didn't escape graffiti. Photo by Jean Zimmerman Copper beech nuts. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden Copper beech leaf in early summer and again in late summer. Photos by Michelle Sutton/Jean Zimmerman

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