After some two hundred years a much-loved Dulwich landmark is likely to disappear. The giant Zelkova carpinifolia, a Caucasian Elm, one of the family of elms not subject to Dutch Elm Disease. It was discovered in the Trans Causasian forests of Russia in 1760 and brought to France and then to England. It is comparatively rare in this country
The tree that has guarded the junction of Dulwich Common and College Road is likely to be felled for safety reasons. Probably due to the increased number of heavy vehicles using the South Circular Road, the tree has developed an acute lean across this busy road junction. The lean has caused the centre of gravity of the tree to shift 1.8 metres from the base of the tree. There continues to be a slight increase in this lean (less than 1cm during the period of monitoring).
This remarkable tree has a height of some 90ft and an overall span of 75ft., and a girth of 15ft 8in. It is therefore bigger than the specimen at Kew. Because of its rarity it is the subject of a Tree Preservation Order. It is probable that the incentive to originally plant the Zelkova may have come from the College's late eighteenth century surveyor, John Dugleby who took such a keen interest in Dulwich's trees that he advised the wholesale removal of many established trees in Dulwich's hedgerows and their replacement by nursery grown specimens.
Three reports have been commissioned from experts. The Dulwich Estate sought advice from the Forestry Commission and also the Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service and The Dulwich Society (in conjunction with the Dulwich Preservation Society) sought the advice of an independent tree expert.
All three reports say that the tree is basically healthy but presents a dangerous hazard if it failed. The use of artificial support would be unsightly and the option of pollarding to reduce the risk of failure would require some 80% of the branches to be removed, resulting in an aesthetically undesirable solution. This however is a course which the Dulwich Society's Trees Committee is anxious to take in order to save the tree.
Although a final decision on the fate of the tree has yet to be made, the Dulwich Estate is of a view that the tree presents an unacceptable risk to the public and regrettably, the only practical solution for the long-term, is to remove the tree. By good fortune another Zelkova was planted on the adjoining green a few years ago. As an interim measure, the Estate has formally applied to lift the Tree Preservation Order.
The Dulwich Society Trees Committee announce a TREE WALK in Dulwich Park (Northside) on Saturday 15th May at 2pm led by Letta Jones, Lecturer in Garden History and Horticulture. Meet at the Court Lane Gate.