Discovered in the mid-nineteenth century in Dundee, Scotland, the original plant of this Victorian England “must-have” is still alive.
All other specimens of Camperdown elm are descended from this parent plant. These clones of the parent are typically grafted onto the stem of a non-mutated plant of wych elm (Ulmus glabra), though occasionally other species of elm are used. Douglas Justice notes in his account in Vancouver Trees, “Camperdown elm is generally grafted high on a standard to compensate for its robust growth and coarse texture.”
The Riverview Lands, where today’s photograph was taken five years ago in mid-April, has twenty or so of these trees:
Even with the video above, one still doesn’t get an accurate sense for how large these can be; see the photograph accompanying piece in one of the local newspapers, or these photographs from the northeast USA’s Louis the Plant Geek.
For descriptive prose, again revisiting Douglas’s writing:
Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’ (Camperdown elm) produces wildly contorted stems that eventually straighten out and become strongly pendulous. The leaves of Camperdown elm are usually much larger than what is typical for the species and overlap, such that they form a wall of coarse foliage that effectively obscures the trunk and internal branching from outside. In late May, the flower-like clusters of samaras, which, despite being individually drab and papery, are surprisingly showy. They may be visible on one-year-old and older branches. Only in winter are the extraordinarily twisted, curling bases of the long shoots visible. It is this medusa-like head, rather than the dark, drab, tent-like shape of the tree in summer, that elicits reactions from passersby.
Or, read this article on a celebrated tree in New York, Marianne Moore and the Crowning Curio: How a Poem Saved One of the World’s Rarest and Most Majestic Trees. Lastly, if interested about Marianne Moore (and the aforementioned poem) and you have library-level access, “Still Leafing”: Celebrity, Confession, Marianne Moore’s “The Camperdown Elm” and the Scandal of Age in the Journal of Modern Literature.