There’s a mystery in the Brooklin Cemetery. A semi-rare Camperdown Elm is the centerpiece there. Its branches writhe over the grave of Brooklin’s Rodney S. Blake, a crew member who drowned when the paddlewheel steamer Portland sunk in 1898 and all aboard perished. Here's an image of the tree taken last week:
This human-engineered weeping elm, which appears to be over 100 years old, had to be put in the Cemetery deliberately – Camperdowns can’t be grown from seed; they’re “cultivars” created by grafting. But, no record of any planting or grafting of this tree has been found. Materials in the well-regarded Brooklin Keeping Society show that research into the tree’s origins was unsuccessful; Blake's granddaughter is quoted there as saying that no family lore about the tree exists.
During the summer, the Camperdown weeps lush leaves over the leaning gravestones:
While the history of our tree is not clear, the history of the Camperdown Elm species is. About 1837, David Taylor, the chief forester on the Earl of Camperdown’s estate in Dundee, Scotland, discovered a young mutant Wych Elm in the forest. The tree had an interesting weeping and contorted shape and was replanted as a feature on the Earl’s house grounds, where it is today. Taylor grafted a cutting of that “sport” tree to a trunk of a normal Wych Elm, producing a weeping cultivar now known as a Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glaba ‘Camperdownii’).
All subsequent Camperdowns are part of a line of cuttings that started with that original tree. The trees were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. They are perhaps at their most dramatic during snow storms, such as this one in Brooklin:
Curiously, the Brooklin Cemetery's Camperdown seems to be ignored by most tourists. Perhaps this is because visitors from away mostly come to see the nearby gravestones of Brooklin’s most famous couple, author E.B. White (Charlotte's Web, etc.) and his wife, New Yorker Magazine Fiction Editor and author (Onward and Upward in the Garden) Katherine Sergeant White.