Fordham University Works to Keep 280-Year-Old American Elm Tree Healthy

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope

Steve Farrelly has seen a lot of trees but he has a favorite.

“I love this tree, this one in particular is really special because of its size and its history,” Farrelly said.

Farrelly is the certified master arborist in charge of keeping the nearly 300-year-old American elm tree healthy. It lives on Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus, but this was its home long before there was a school. Fordham’s director of facilities, Ralph Rivera, says it’s seen every student come and go.

“It’s a center point if you think about the history of Fordham when this was all farmlands, how symbolic for the university, we’re still here, it’s very deep-rooted within Fordham,” Rivera said.

The tree is 140 feet tall and has a canopy spread of 120 feet, at Fordham they say it’s the oldest tree on record in New York City. Fordham’s archives has a picture of it fully mature in 1864.

The tree has been through a lot over the years – including an outbreak of Dutch Elm disease that killed more than 40 million others across the country, but this one survived. Now every other year Steve treats it with a fungicide to keep it healthy.

Just like the school’s Jesuit mission, care for the tree is rooted in faith.

“We stand for sustainability and integrity and Fordham and the Catholic Jesuit school does the same thing so it’s a great relationship we have with them,” Steve said.

“Cura personalis, care for one’s self is care for others and what we put into this we hope that as a student can just feel whole,” said Ralph.

The men have become stewards of something that was here long before they were, and if taken care of properly – it will stand long after they’re gone.