And Then There Were Nine: Ninth Tree Dead Around Washington Square Fountain Over Three Years

second time tree dies in location by the Arch

oh dear…

Previous tree, Last August

Since the Fountain Plaza was redesigned in 2009 and existing healthy 40 year old trees were axed so the Fountain could align with the Arch (sort of), nine young trees have been planted and subsequently died. The latest tree, located right near the Arch, hadn’t looked healthy for awhile and at last succumbed (pictured above). A tree died in this same location last August. Here is a recap from this blog on August 17, 2011 when the previous tree alongside the Arch died:

I’ve previously reported on the young trees dying repeatedly around the Washington Square Fountain, this tree (pictured above) now makes tree #8. Over the last two years, trees have been replaced by the Parks Department and died 3x in two locations around the fountain; a new arborcidal incident occurred on the western side just recently. Now this — the fourth location lining the fountain to exhibit a dead tree.

These events were forecast by a landscape architect I encountered back in August of 2009 who predicted ALL the trees around the fountain would likely die and attributed this to the design.

These young (now dead) trees replaced perfectly healthy living trees which were 40+ years old, axed because they got in the way of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to move the famous fountain 22 feet east to align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.

The reality is that these aren’t the only dead trees dying at Washington Square Park. North, South, East, West, Perimeter, Within – trees are dying all over at the park.

What can be done to stop the New York City Parks Department from committing this arborcide?

Note: In late September of last year, the Parks Department told WNBC-TV’s Chris Glorioso that they were studying the issue and conducting tests but it didn’t sound as if they planned to do anything differently despite expert advice isolating what they were doing wrong (that they continue to ignore).

Why will this agency in charge of our city’s trees not do the right thing? Is it political as I surmised (based on information from a source) at the onset?

Previously at WSP Blog:

July 11, 2011: Why do the Newly Planted Trees Around the Washington Square Fountain Keep Dying?

July 15, 2011: Arborcidal Design for Fountain Trees — Will City’s Parks Department Address This at Last?

December 10,2009: Two of Seven Newly Planted Trees that Line the Fountain have died — Is the cause the design?

Photos: Cathryn

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Washington Square Fragrant Linden Tree in Full Bloom in Eastern Quadrant

The fragrant Linden Tree

This post is from June 20th, 2011 but, as the Linden Tree flowers once every year, I am reposting.– I noticed as I entered the park from the southeast yesterday, the smell was particularly distinct!

If you walk from the fountain east, at the intersection where a fork occurs in the road and the pathway veers south, there is a huge Linden tree. Right now, it’s flowering and the flowers emit the most beautiful smell. The flowers don’t last that long so check it out soon.

I was walking by and looking around for where the fragrance was coming from and then looked up and realized that tree is a Linden tree. I don’t know if there is more than one Linden tree in the park.

More on Linden Trees (genus: Tilia) from Wikipedia:

On healing: The flowers are used for herbal tea and tinctures; this kind of use is particularly popular in Europe and also used in North American herbal medicine practices.

In Germanic mythology: Originally, local communities assembled not only to celebrate and dance under a Tilia tree, but to hold their judicial thing (governing assembly) meetings there in order to restore justice and peace. It was believed that the tree would help unearth the truth.

In Jeopardy: Washington Square’s 330 Year Old “Hangman’s” English Elm — Is Improper and Inadequate protection during Park’s recent construction the cause?

The “Hangman’s Elm” — Oldest Living Tree in Manhattan

Branches Cut at Top of Tree

An English Elm is the species of the tree which resides in the NorthWest Quadrant of Washington Square Park, the tree that is largely (and ironically, somewhat fondly) referred to as the “Hangman’s Elm.” Although there are no records of an actual hanging from the tree, at some point, it was given this name and it stuck. Perhaps because it looks so old, so majestic, and so strong, you can certainly imagine a hanging occurring from the tree in the 1800s, a century the tree lived through. In 1989, the Parks Department determined the age of the tree to be 310 years old, making it now 333. It is the oldest known living tree in Manhattan.

I contacted Bronx-based arborist Ralph Padilla to find out more about the English Elm in general, why healthy trees might get stressed, and if the Parks Department’s plan to trim branches of this tree ultimately made sense.

Padilla says that a healthy English Elm has wood so strong that “ordinarily you could hang a school bus from it,” the exception being when it is under stress or has “a defect or hole.”

Recently, Community Board 2 was alerted by the city’s Parks Department about concerns around the state of the tree and a plan to remove some of the majestic Elm’s branches. Community members were greatly concerned. The Parks Department provided this statement as far as their course of action and why:

Parks Department statement on the status of the Washington Square English Elm:

A ground based visual tree inspection and a subsequent aerial climbing inspection of the Washington Square Park English Elm found evidence of decay and strength loss. Approximately 20% of its crown will be removed in stages to reduce the mechanical stress experienced by its stems and branches and avoid the complete removal of the tree. The tree will also be treated against Dutch Elm Disease in the next few weeks.

When I read Padilla the statement the Parks Department gave in relation to the Hangman’s Elm, he said that it sounded “pretty reasonable.” He said if there is concern about “the vulnerability of the branch” which could break off, instead of removing the entire branch, “the strategy is to reduce weight … to prune away a bit. Now, it definitely won’t break.” Given the concerns, he said the way the city agency was proceeding sounded “very good.” As we spoke, he shed light on what might cause the stress the tree was under and that “decay and strength loss.”

Recent Criticism of City’s Parks Department over Maintenance of Trees

Recently, the Parks Department has been heavily criticized for its oversight of the health of the city’s trees resulting in deaths and injuries. On the one hand, great that they caught the problem with the Hangman’s Elm before something serious happened, but, on the other, is something else being ignored? That something is inadequate protection of our city trees during construction projects.

Padilla said, “Ordinarily with an overly mature tree, you never remove any green parts. There is barely enough food to power the entire system.” He said “the real plant food comes from the leaves which convert sunlight and energy into sugars. These sugars are the only real plant food.” (Fascinating!) He didn’t think, given the assessment, that there was much other option than the route they were taking. But I wonder why is the tree in this precarious state?

Protection around park trees during construction “a joke”

When I mentioned the park’s continuous construction and that the branches that were recently removed were at the top of the tree, he said, “When the branches at the top of a tree die off, the problem is in the root area; a disturbance of the root zone. The root zone of this tree would be far reaching – possibly half way across the park.

He continued, “Construction and trees almost never work out because the protection is so half ass. I didn’t see the protection they took but the right protection for this tree would be a chain link fence 30 feet out from the trunk.”

When I explained that the protection consisted of four rickety wood slats right around the trunk of the tree, he said “that’s a joke.”

This is what the “protection” around all the park’s trees during construction has looked like over the last four years, including the Hangman’s Elm:

WSP Tree "Protection" Could Certainly be Improved

WSP Tree “Protection” Could Certainly be Improved (October 2009)

Basically what happens, according to Padilla: “When the roots get damaged, the tree will sacrifice the tippy top to direct energy into the root system in order to make repairs where the roots were damaged.” (Also fascinating!)

Padilla did say that treating the elm for Dutch Elm disease is smart since the insect that is the vector for Dutch Elm Disease is attracted to holes and the cutting of the branches could make the Elm susceptible.

Can we change the city’s practices and prompt appropriate care of our city’s trees?

So, we have to send some good energy to the Hangman’s Elm. Perhaps it can be a lesson. NYC needs to make necessary and major changes in the way our trees are being protected during construction.

The Bloomberg Administration has made much of its “Million Trees” Initiative while not providing funds for the necessary maintenance of these new trees as well as existing ones. It becomes difficult not to believe it’s all a p.r. ploy. Now, we have the situation before us with the 333 year old “Hangman’s Elm” and its decline and it’s impossible not to point to the construction and the fact that necessary precautions have not been taken.

Will the Bloomberg’s Administration’s dramatic redesign of Washington Square Park be the cause of the demise of the oldest known living tree in Manhattan?

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Very cool Time Lapse video from 7:19 p.m. to 9:35 p.m. of the Hangman’s Elm one day in April 2012 from Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel:

* Wikipedia Hangman’s Elm
How to Prevent Additional Trees at Washington Square Park from Dying – Questions Abound WSP Blog, August 23, 2011
* Training to spot Tree Decay is Urged for Parks Workers New York Times, May 31, 2012
* Kristin Jones’ “Behold,” Slated for Arbor Day 2013, Has Eye on Hangmen’s Elm at Washington Square WSP Blog, December 19, 2011

Is Washington Square’s 330 Year old Hangmen’s Elm in Trouble? Community Board 2 Meeting to Address Tonight

Has the construction at Washington Square taken a damaging toll on the park’s famous Hangmen’s Elm reported to be 330 years old?

From Community Board 2 announcement:

Wednesday, May 30th, CB2’s Parks Committee will be meeting at the LGBT Center, located at 208 West 13th Street, in room 410.  The meeting will begin at 6:30pm.  The agenda items will include:

1.     Public discussion of the recent Parks Department decision, following an inspection, to remove one or more major limbs from the Hangman’s Elm (aka Hangman’s Tree) in Washington Square Park.  The Parks Department has been invited to attend the meeting.  [This item was added to the agenda last week after we were informed of this decision.]

The Hangmen’s Elm is located in the NorthWest corner of the park. There were concerns before the park redesign construction began that the trees would not (and were not) adequately protected. And we know the young trees lining the fountain have not fared very well

Recycle Your Tree at WSP This Weekend by the Arch – Keep Your Tree Out of the Landfill

People Started Dropping Off Early near Arch?

“MulchFest” comes to Washington Square Park this weekend Saturday, January 7th and Sunday, January 8th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. by the Arch. You can recycle your tree in the chipper into mulch at locations throughout the city. This is coordinated by the Parks Department and the Department of Sanitation. Keep your tree out of the landfill! You can get some mulch at the drop-off sites.

Curbside pick up of trees is ongoing this year from January 3rd to January 12th. Whether dropping off or leaving on the curb, remove all tree stands, tinsel, lights, and ornaments from trees.

I always find it a bit sad watching trees go in the chipper. One year, when the Department of Sanitation canceled curbside pickup, a group I worked with, Recycle This!, went around picking up discarded trees on the streets of Brooklyn! I wrote about that here.

Mayor Bloomberg Puts Tree in the Chipper

Million Dead Trees?

The History of the Washington Square Christmas Tree — Tree from First Tree Lighting Ceremony in 1924 Was Planted in the Park In Spirit of “Wise Use”

“Researching Greenwich Village History”, an NYU site, recently uncovered the history of the first Washington Square Christmas tree. It turns out that the tree propped up in the front of the Arch at the first tree lighting ceremony in 1924 was later planted in the park. Words to the carols – to prompt the sing along – were projected onto the Arch!

The writer was not able to confirm that that tree is still at WSP or where it was planted which would be quite interesting to know. Apparently, “conservation” was a big consideration at that time, more so than 87 years later it appears. An article in the New York Times in 1925 expressed that, “Each year…a cry is raised that to have Christmas trees is to endanger our waning forest resources.” Perhaps they might consider planting the trees in the park now vs. the trees ending up in the chipper. The original tree, if it still existed in recent years, may have been chopped down in the Parks Department’s axing of so many trees via its redesign of Washington Square.

Here’s the info:

The original tree was officially presented on December 24, 1924, by Parks Commissioner Gallatin. The “appropriate ceremonies” included the lighting of the tree, which was to be equipped with “1,500 amber, green and red incandescent lights.” (New York Times, “City’s Celebration of Yuletide Begins” December 24, 1924) as well as caroling, and as the article went to press, the plan was to project the words of Christmas carols directly onto the Washington Square Arch, “…so that all present may read and sing.” The living tree, temporarily set up by the arch, was then to be planted permanently elsewhere in the park the following Monday.

It seems that today’s Washington Square Christmas Tree is a cut one, but in the spirit of “wise use,” we can still hope that the original living tree was able to be planted and enjoyed for many years after its journey to New York City! And of course, every time we walk through Washington Square Park and see an evergreen, we can imagine that it’s an 87 year veteran of park life.

Don’t forget caroling by the tree continues in front of the Arch Saturday, December 24th 5 p.m.!

The projection of the words to the carols on the Arch seems to have been abandoned but perhaps that could be brought back too. It would be another way to save trees as songbooks are now provided and handed out by the Washington Square Association instead.

The Rockefeller Center tree lighting is in its 79th year — a not well known fact is that the Washington Square tradition, at year 87, surpasses it in age.

Photo of this year’s tree(2011): Fernandohn via Instagram.

Kristin Jones’ “Behold,” Slated for Arbor Day 2013, Has Eye on “Hangmen’s Elm” at Washington Square

Kristin Jones beside the "Hangmen's Elm"

Updated – This past Friday’s New York Times featured Kristin Jones’ “Behold,” “a 24 hour multimedia extravaganza” in appreciation of the city’s trees, slated for Arbor Day 2013. One tree in each borough will be designated as a point of focus.

The tree she has her eye on for Manhattan is at Washington Square – the famous “Hangman’s Elm” (there seems to be dispute over whether it was actually used for hangings) in the NorthWest corner of the park. I did not realize that tree is 330 years old! Incredible.

Jones and her partner were responsible for “Metronome” – the unique clock (or “artwork/digital timepiece, intended as a modernist meditation on the dissolution of time”) that looms above Union Square on 14th Street.

Of the “Hangmen’s Elm,” she says: “All these years this beautiful tree was right under my nose. It makes me angry that I never appreciated it until now.”

From the Times’ article:

… she whipped off her blue-rimmed glasses and, conducting the conversation with her ungloved hands, described her plans for that tree and four others in New York City: a 24-hour multimedia extravaganza of lighting, time-lapse filming, poetry and music, to be called “Behold.”

Ms. Jones wants New Yorkers not only to appreciate the ancient giants in their midst but also to pitch in and help conserve them. In that respect, “Behold” is an artistic intervention.

“Imagine how beautiful she would be all lit up,” she mused, stepping back from the English elm, one of just a few of its vintage left in the city. Ms. Jones assigned it a gender based on, well, women’s intuition. Her intended subject dwarfs her, but then, all of her artistic ambitions are supersize.

The artist suggests that the Parks Commissioner is not a fan of the idea. There’s time to change that by the “target date” of Arbor Day – April 26 – 2013. (Possibly, a New York Times article may help win his favor?)

Of the “Hangmen’s Elm,” Jones said: “This tree kind of chose me.” In addition, “she considers the trees natural wonders given short shrift by the city they nurture.”

On that, she will find many agree.

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Accompanying Photo essay.
Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
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What Will Happen Next for Washington Square Park Trees? Four New Arrivals Replace Perpetually Dying Trees Around Fountain

If you were wondering what the Parks Department’s next move would be after all the attention given to the perpetually dying trees that line the Washington Square fountain, it appeared when four new trees were planted mid-last week…

Village Green Zelkova

One of the New Tree Arrivals (West)

New tree

Roots? Drainage?

One in a Million

One of four new trees


When NBC New York featured a segment on this story in late September, the New York City Parks Department told reporter Chris Glorioso:

“We have experienced a series of failed plantings for the Zelkova trees in the area around Washington Square Park’s plaza. We are investigating potential causes of why trees are not surviving here and will conduct soil tests, examine the drainage, and determine if there is a problem with this particular species.”

At the time, Glorioso spoke to an arborist, Ralph Padilla, who stated:

“It was planted incorrectly,” he said after examining the dead tree near the arch. “It was planted too deep.”

“The giveaway is that all trees, before they enter the soil [should] flare out slightly at the base,” he said.

The dead tree near the arch does not flare out at all, Padilla said. He said it was possible that private contractors or parks personnel repeated the mistake by burying the root balls of eight trees too far beneath the soil, suppressing oxygen supply. When roots are submerged too deeply, recent transplants can die. …

My initial reporting on this in 2009 including speaking to a landscape architect at the Park who revealed that the design was inappropriate for the trees’ survival. He stated that the Parks Department would likely not address the issue sufficiently — due to internal politics and not wanting to ruffle the park’s redesigner – and accurately predicted that this pattern of dying trees would happen repeatedly. Eight young trees have died over four years; in two locations, trees have been planted and died three times in a row. These trees all replaced healthy 40 year old trees axed due to the Bloomberg Administration’s symmetrical “vision” of moving the fountain from its historical location 22 feet east to “align” with the Arch.

The way these four new trees are planted looks exactly the same – in fact, the roots look even more submerged. What do you think? Will the arborcide continue?

Inquiries this blog has made to the city Parks Department as to what their assessment revealed have not been responded to.
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Yesterday at the Park (Photos)

Two Squirrels enjoy the "Hanging Elm" NW Quadrant

Cleaning Up Chess Plaza - Work Resumed ?

Plants Arrive SW Quadrant

Arch Still Barricaded Off

??

Chalked Plaza -- Occupy Washington Square Park

Fall Colors or Another Fountain Tree Dying?

The squirrels in the park were in fine form yesterday … enjoying visitors and regulars, and, of course, the park’s trees — pictured at top is the famous and very old “Hanging Elm” in the North West Quadrant. …

Work appears to have resumed somewhat on construction on Phase II-B – South West Quadrant/Chess Plaza  – signs that someone was there appeared in the form of potted plants and a wheel barrow. …

The Arch is still mysteriously barricaded off. It’s hard to know what to make of that. (Think of the “poor tourists” and visitors wanting to get their pictures taken in front of the Arch! Kidding, sort of.) …

Occupy Washington Square chalked the plaza to announce the location of their meeting the other night. Next meeting is on Wednesday (tomorrow), October 26th at 7 p.m. and the community is invited! …

It’s hard to say if the remaining 3 – living – trees around the fountain — the ones that remain — are now exhibiting fall colors or are dying.

Photos: Cathryn

NBC News Reports on Trees Repeatedly Dying Around the Washington Square Fountain

Dead Tree #8 in Two Years Currently In View by the Arch

NBC’s Chris Glorioso covered the repeatedly dying trees around the Washington Square Fountain in a comprehensive and well done segment last night on the 11 p.m. news. It was based on my coverage here at the Washington Square Park Blog and I was interviewed. One additional point I would have included in the piece — the fact that these young trees that have died (8 total in 2 years) replaced healthy 40 year old trees that previously lined the Fountain before it was moved 22 feet east to align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.

You can watch the NBC piece here: “Dead Trees at Washington Square Park Blamed on Parks Department”.

** For an overview of the situation from this blog, this is most recent piece on the topic — How many trees around the Washington Square Fountain Must Die before Suffocating Design is Corrected?”

In addition to the trees being planted too deep and therefore not receiving enough oxygen (as the arborist in NBC piece states), the entire design that is housing the trees is incorrect as far as allowing proper drainage and supporting the usage of structural soil. There are people within the Parks Department who certainly know what the issues are.

Here’s a print preview from the NBC site:

The sickly tree is one of eight that have died in just the last two years. All of the doomed arbors were planted as part of a $30 million park renovation championed by the Bloomberg administration.

The Parks Department is knowingly committing arborcide,” said Cathryn Swan, a neighbor who has been posting pictures of the dead trees on her website, the Washington Square Park Blog.

“There are two locations where the trees have been planted and replanted three times, and they’ve died all three times,” Swan said. “I’m worried they’re going to plant those trees a fourth time. I just feel like it ends up being sort of heartbreaking.”

The New York City Parks Department said in a prepared statement, “We have experienced a series of failed plantings for the Zelkova trees in the area around Washington Square Park’s plaza. We are investigating potential causes of why trees are not surviving here and will conduct soil tests, examine the drainage, and determine if there is a problem with this particular species.”

But professional arborist Ralph Padilla diagnosed the planting problem as relatively simple. “It was planted incorrectly,” he said after examining the dead tree near the arch. “It was planted too deep.”

“The giveaway is that all trees, before they enter the soil [should] flare out slightly at the base,” he said.

The dead tree near the arch does not flare out at all, Padilla said. He said it was possible that private contractors or parks personnel repeated the mistake by burying the root balls of eight trees too far beneath the soil, suppressing oxygen supply. When roots are submerged too deeply, recent transplants can die. …

Cathryn Swan blames poor oversight and bureaucracy for the bungled plantings. Each time a tree fails to take root, contractors must wait for the next seasonal window to re-plant. Already, the Washington Square Park renovation has lasted nearly four years. The phase of the project that includes the dead trees was supposed to be wrapped up by 2009.

“People talk about bureaucracy and city government. You want to believe there are people who will step in and stop the bureaucracy sometimes, but with something like this it is clear that is not happening,” Swan said.

NBC: “Dead Trees at Washington Square Park Blamed on Parks Department”.