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Spruce tree on Common is ailing

After only five years in its place of honor on the Common, the town Christmas tree is diseased and might need to be cut down and replaced.

In a phone call this week, Tree Warden JC Ferguson said the tree, a dwarf Bakeri blue spruce, has contracted Rhizosphaera needle cast, an airborne fungus that thrives in moist, hot weather such as we had last summer, and could be said to be a climate change casualty. The visible fungus causes the needles to turn brown and fall off, starting on the lower branches near the trunk, and working its way outward. While treatment exists, it is aimed at protecting new growth and probably would not correct the damage that has already been done.

If the tree is to be replaced, Ferguson said he would seek an evergreen tree grown in an environment similar to Harvard’s because it would already be acclimated to the conditions it will live in. He also would probably recommend a dwarf again because it would grow slowly to a maximum height of 40 feet, which would make the yearly stringing of the lights doable without employing a crane.

The planting of the tree was recorded in the Sept. 28, 2017, issue of the Harvard Press. That report said the tree was anonymously donated, as was part of the cost to remove the 94-year-old Christmas tree that had lived on the Common for 78 years and had grown to more than 80 feet, which in turn had replaced a Christmas tree that fell in the hurricane of 1938.

Since the first community Christmas tree was planted on the Common in 1923, as noted in “A Common History” by Carlene Phillips, the community has welcomed, at the darkest time of year, a brightly lit evergreen.

The conifer on the Common sags under a fresh load of snow. Unfortunately for this tree, an outbreak of fungus may necessitate its untimely removal. (Photo by Thomas Kilian)

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