Prospect Park

Camperdown Elm

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’) was propagated in the late 1830s when a mutant Scots Elm branch was discovered growing at Camperdown House in Dundee, Scotland. The branch was grafted onto the trunk of a normal Scots Elm producing a tree with “weeping” branches. All Camperdown Elms that exist today trace back to that original mutation. A beneficial side effect of this “new” elm was its immunity to Dutch Elm Disease that decimated the species throughout North America in the last century.

Prospect Park’s Camperdown Elm, planted here in 1872 was donated by A.G. Burgess, a florist from Brooklyn, who regularly donated trees to New York City parks. The tree was situated on a raised mound to allow its weeping branches to clear the ground. The tree, suffering years of neglect, captured public attention in 1967 when it was immortalized in a poem written by Brooklyn resident and Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet, Marianne Moore (1887-1972). “It is still leaving; still there,” she wrote of the damaged tree. “Mortal though. We must save it. It is our crowning curio.” Today, cables supporting the tree’s branches can be seen under its crown.

Moore’s efforts and those of a concerned group of local citizens succeeded in increasing public awareness about threatened and vulnerable areas throughout the park, which led to the creation of the Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit that sustains the park in partnership with the city. Thanks to their dedication, parkgoers can still enjoy the beauty of the Camperdown Elm today and celebrate its legacy as the impetus for the park’s restoration by the Alliance, which cares for the tree today.

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