Tree IDs #8: The deadly Chinese Elm

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 03-25-2009 11:34 AM 8709 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 7: Second mystery tree - Any ideas? Part 8 of Tree IDs series Part 9: trees I know now »

I was not expecting to ID this tree this way. At the end of my street is a tiny triangular park – by tiny, I mean maybe 0.2-0.3 acres – lined with what I’ve been guessing might be some kind of Eucalyptus. They’re tall, twisty, and have a peeling or splitting bark that reveals many multicolored blotches beneath.

Today I learned what they are while looking up a Chinese elm my friend told me fell in the wind storm this week. It was 70 years old, and 50’ tall. I wasn’t sure a) why that was newsworthy in LA (unless it was famous, somehow), or b) how my friend heard about it, and why she remembered it. It dawned on me around lunch today, however, that it might be laying there, waiting for me to swing by and cut it up for my own usage. I looked it up, found the story related to it here (w/ video of tree, truck, and guy (last half)), and realized it was the kind of tree in the park down the street. I love them. I’ve been really itching to know what they are, what they’re like inside, how well the wood works, and what colors, grains, and textures are lurking within. The LA Times “Tree of the Week” feature has a nice photo and info about them.

I hadn’t noticed the part of the article about it landing on a truck, though, and from my office, the video didn’t load, so I didn’t have the thumbnail image of said destruction. I arrived today only to find the tree completely removed:

site of formerChinese elm tree in Los Angeles

Then I turned my head to the other side of the road and saw this shocker:

SUV smashed by fallen Chinese elm in Los Angeles

Looks like it took out the backboard of that basketball net, too:

SUV crushed by fallen Chinese Elm in LA

Less than a block away stood 2 more gracious Chinese elms, directly opposite similarly-tall Benjamin Figs (Ficus benjamina). I’m guessing the homeowners around there are eyeing their elms a bit more warily than usual this week:

Chinese elm less than a block away from former Chinese elm, which fell in a wind storm

ABC's recap of this event has a rather epic fallen-tree shot of the fallen tree, ripped up earth and sidewalk, and crushed truck laid over their embedded video, which, at the end, shows a wood chipper near the fallen tree. I’m guessing they fed all the branches through it. It would hurt me to know they ground up the beautiful trunk and larger limb bits, though I know deep down they just mulched them, or threw them in a landfill somewhere. I need to get friendly with these tree cleanup guys, and let them know they have a great alternative to ruining all of the gorgeous, exotic woods around here :)

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

8 comments so far

View oldskoolmodder's profile


802 posts in 5143 days

#1 posted 03-25-2009 06:17 PM

Most tree cutting companies (around here) don’t care to save wood. They are in the business of literally pulverizing the tree’s and why should they want to save the wood? (Their opinions, not mine) It may take a bit of work on your part to get them to agree. Maybe the solution is getting in good with a certain crew, rather than the company. People are always looking for an easy way out of doing all the work they are paid to do. If someone is willing to take some of the wood off their hands, that’s less work they have to do, and they still get paid the same price.

-- Respect your shop tools and they will respect you - Ric

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 5356 days

#2 posted 03-25-2009 06:30 PM

The “Ford Explorer” became the “Ford Exploder”

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Drew1House's profile


425 posts in 5551 days

#3 posted 03-25-2009 06:58 PM

In Utah there are plenty of chinese elms…and you are welcome to cut any of them down. (most owners will not have an issue with these… they are terrible pests) Come and get it!

-- Drew, Pleasant Grove, Utah

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 5191 days

#4 posted 03-25-2009 07:44 PM

You may want to check out some of Darren Nelson’s previous blogs. He posted a lot of info about his efforts to try and salvage downed trees. He probably has a bit more capacity than you since he owns a portable sawmill, but you still may find the read interesting if you haven’t read it already.

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5451 days

#5 posted 03-25-2009 07:48 PM

I grew up with one of those trees in my back yard. It grows like a weed and you end up with the tiny leaves all over everything.

Ended up taking it out.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View littlecope's profile


3152 posts in 4965 days

#6 posted 03-25-2009 09:35 PM

There’s a zen lesson here somewhere. If a tree falls in the…, will anyone park near it? ;-) Michael C.

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View Demowen's profile


121 posts in 4860 days

#7 posted 03-26-2009 07:32 AM

the tree looks like something from Dr. Seuss

-- Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish the work of our hands- establish the work of our hands! Psalm 90:17

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4844 days

#8 posted 03-30-2009 07:41 AM

Ric – I think you’re onto something there. I drove back and forth by some guys cutting up a bunch of paperbarks last week, too timid to pull over and ask (I’m a little shy, I guess). I finally got fed up with my reluctance and pulled over and just said “Hey guys, can I have some of that wood?” They started throwing all of it to me immediately. I filled the hatch up, and they told me to swing by at 1PM the next day for another tree in the same spot they were cutting down, so I did, and got that, too :) Just gotta be more assertive.

roman – I exploded my mom’s Explorer in the 90s, too! I ran into a Sears van. Those things are made of solid cast iron, I think :)

Drew – Argh! I want ‘em. I hear they’re pests because of the leaves they drop. Personally, I wouldn’t mind. I love leaf piles, unless they’re smelly, or sticky or something. Moreover, I love the look of these crazy, twisty trees. They make me feel like I’m in a magical place. I will be happy to take them off your hands. I just need a truck, and more than 0.18 acres, which I’m renting…

HokieMojo – I will check Darren’s posts out. Thanks!

Gary – Did you try to use it? Was it pretty inside?

Michael C.- I was wondering what the other people on the block were thinking – the ones down by the other Chinese elms on the same street.

Demowen – you’re right! It even has the hair :)

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

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