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What Happened? by John Kahre

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This was the question that we all were asking as we watched the monitors in the Tulsa Community College hallway.  Unbelievably, the answer was as dramatic as the events on the screen.  ”Oklahoma City had been bombed!”

Almost everyone in the state of Oklahoma had been affected in some way by this horrific act. Almost everyone wanted to do something to express their grief.  And almost everyone was looking for a symbol of hope. That symbol was provided by an American Elm.  Most arborists would have considered the American Elm another victim of this explosion, but people began putting condolences at the base of the tree and in the deep furrows of the tree’s bark.  Soon this “Survivor Tree” became the symbol of hope and strength that was needed to help Oklahoma City and this State to get through this horrible event.

The day before this explosion, this American Elm was just a rather ugly tree that had been planted by nature in a small area next to a large parking lot. The soil was terrible, the room to grow roots was limited and the water provided was just the water that could be captured after a rain. The odds of success for most trees would be almost zero.  Perhaps this story isn’t just a story of the amazing effect that this tree has had helping to rebuild lives, but also a testimony this tree provided as to the strength and durability of this species of tree.

The American Elm has become a cornerstone of the landscape of trees planted in communities all over America.  What a statement these trees have made, providing shade, homes for birds and great places for children to play.  This tree species still has the wonderful qualities that it has always had. Unfortunately the Dutch elm disease has almost eradicated this species.  However, we now know why this occurred, and we know with proper management and with genetically resistant varieties the American Elm can return to our landscapes.   Maybe we should remember the twenty year anniversary of the bombing by visiting the Murrah Memorial National park in Oklahoma City and spend a little time in the shade of the Survivor Tree, then consider planting one of the several disease resistant varieties of the American Elm to ensure this tree’s future in Oklahoma communities.