Magazine article The New Yorker

Branch Library

Magazine article The New Yorker

Branch Library

Article excerpt

The great nineteenth-century American preacher and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher called them "tabernacles of the air." They were depicted as soaring colossi on luminous canvases by the likes of Thomas Cole, and their virtues--stately posture, rapid growth, a lofty crown of verdure, and a habit of forming cathedral-like groves--were celebrated by Hawthorne and Thoreau and by such esteemed visitors as Dickens and Trollope. Taken together, they were perhaps New England's, and America's, most famous citizens: the leafy representatives of Ulmus americana, the American elm, a tree that for a few hundred years defined the American landscape and that an awestruck French naturalist once described as "the most magnificent vegetable of the temperate zone." In Thomas J. Campanella's edifying REPUBLIC OF SHADE (Yale), the mighty elm--whose dominance as America's favorite tree was toppled by the devastating epidemic of Dutch-elm disease that began in 1931--rises again, as Campanella explores the history of the plant that launched an entire nation of Elm Streets. …

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