Just a month after Riverside’s village board refused to accept a $5,000 donation from a private citizen to plant trees not on the village’s preferred list, the Landscape Advisory Commission voted to permit planting two such trees for citizens who requested them.
Members of the commission at their meeting on Sept. 8 voted unanimously to plant a Triumph elm tree at 177 Herrick Road and 4-1 to plant the same species in front of 327 Selborne Road.
The Triumph elm is a non-native cultivar species, developed at Morton Arboretum. It’s a cross between the Vanguard elm and Accolade elm, which was planted on parkways in 2007 and 2008 as part of an “experimental” tree program funded through annual donations by resident Steven Campbell.
Campbell again offered the donation this year, but was rebuffed by the village board in a split vote on Aug. 17.
The board’s unanimous decision to plant the elm in front of 177 Herrick Road was mainly due to the fact that the homeowner who had requested the tree had been promised the elm tree prior to the village board’s August vote.
In the case of the elm for 327 Selborne Road, commission members Suzanne Causton, Terri Lynne-Culloden, Bob Finn and Peter Murphy voted to allow the planting. Eric Zuschlag cast the lone “no” vote. Commission member Sander Kaplan was not present at the meeting. Commission Chairman John Kunka did not cast a vote in either instance.
“It seems contradictory, but the village is trying to do what residents want,” said Finn. “If they feel strongly about it, we try to address their wishes. It’s not a clear cut issue.”
The Triumph elm was one of the trees Village Forester Michael Collins recommended as an option for the experimental tree program funded by Campbell. While Campbell’s donation would have covered the cost for planting the trees, the homeowners will have to pay to plant the elms approved by the landscape commission on Sept. 8.
Kunka, while he didn’t vote on either motion, made clear that he was against planting the cultivars, even though cultivars are popular choices for reintroducing such species as elms into urban forestry.
“They’re the way the nursery business is going, and there are various opinions on it,” said Kunka, reached at home last week. “There’s always room for discussion. However, I consider cultivars kind of dubious. We have an 1870s-designed landscape. Olmsted used much of what was here in his design. That’s the way it was until the 1920s, when it changed.”
Kunka said that in the 1920s, Henry Babson donated 700 elm trees to the village, and the trees were planted throughout town.
“That’s when it came to be elms overwhelmingly in town,” Kunka said. “Of course, all those trees became diseased.”
Asked when the commission might begin debating the inclusion of other trees in the village’s preferred list, Kunka said that the conversation is ongoing and declined to state where he thought that discussion might lead.
“I’m not going to predict the future,” Kunka said. “It’s a complicated issue and the town is a complicated place. It’s ongoing at all our meetings, so we’ll see what happens.”
Trustee James Reynolds, the village board’s liaison to the Landscape Advisory Commission, said he does not want the village to focus solely on elm cultivars as an experiment for the village and two years of plantings is sufficient.
“A focus on one or two cultivars might have the same problem as the [original] elms,” said Reynolds. “Ultimately, what I’d like to see is diversity and, specifically, biodiversity. I just don’t want to see us going to elm cultivars. But it’s been a good thing in that it’s opened up the discussion.
“I think that discussion should start immediately,” he added. “If these trees are a good idea, let’s take a hard look at it and put them on the list.”