CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mark Double, a research associate in the West Virginia University Department of Plant Pathology, has traveled to Charleston's West Side every three years since 1984 on a mission to vanquish a terrible disease.
"It's been close to 30 years that we've been doing this," Double said, as he bent over a large canister and filled it with water to mix with the fungicide he had carefully measured.
"This is like a flu shot, to prevent the disease."
The disease is Dutch elm disease and Double's "patients" are the massive elm trees surrounding the historic Glenwood Estate, a grand old home run by the Historic Glenwood Foundation. The house, an oasis at the corner of Park Avenue and Orchard Street across from Stonewall Jackson Middle School, was built in the mid-19th century for James Madison Laidley, a lawyer and politician from Parkersburg. Other residents included George Summers II and Lucy Quarrier, great-granddaughter of George Summers.
Originally, there were 16 elms on the grounds of Glenwood.
"We lost one in the back, No. 16, back in 1984," explained Kemp Winfree, vice president and operating officer of the foundation and the estate. That's when the preventative plan was put into place.
"We haven't lost any one since," Double said, smiling. Twelve elms remain on the property; a few have succumbed to storm damage and other issues not related to Dutch elm disease.
According to Wikipedia, Dutch elm disease is caused by a member of the sac fungi category affecting elm trees, and is spread by the elm bark beetle. Although believed to be originally native to Asia, the disease has been accidentally introduced into America and Europe, where it has devastated native populations of elms, which had not had the opportunity to evolve resistance to the disease. The name refers to its identification in the Netherlands by a Dutch phytopathologist in 1921; the disease is not specific to the Dutch elm hybrid.