In conjunction with National Park Week, the National Park Service conducted the tree planting at the Flight 93 National Memorial on April 20, one of four tree planting days planned at the site this year.
The American elms were developed by Forest Service scientist Jim Slavicek in Ohio. They were grown to seedling stage in the West Virginia State Nursery, through collaboration with Forest Service researcher Mary Beth Adams. This collaboration is part of an Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative project that will include Forest Service elms at about 20 planting sites.
The original idea was to plant native ash trees, but, ironically, the hardy and plentiful ash tree is neither in many areas these days thanks to an invasive pest called the emerald ash borer. In the early 2000s the shimmering green and hugely destructive insect arrived as a stowaway, its larvae imbedded in shipping crates made from Chinese wood. Once here, like the plot of a science fiction novel, these oddly beautiful pests laid their eggs under the bark of ash trees and in short order have killed hundreds of millions of the trees most famously known for making baseball bats.
American elm trees were on the brink of disappearing from the nation’s landscape after Dutch elm disease nearly wiped them out in the 20th Century. But thanks to the science of tree breeding, Forest Service scientists are planting new varieties of the grand trees, which have a distinctive far-reaching canopy and are considered one of the most aesthetically beautiful trees in the nation.
The search for insect-resistant ash trees is now underway in hopes of reconstituting its range throughout the eastern U.S.
For now, the Forest Service’s new Dutch elm tolerant American elm trees planted at Shanksville will commemorate the 40 passengers and seven crew members who lost their lives there.