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Vol. LVIII, No. 4
February 24, 2006

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Younger, Sturdier Versions Needed
Trademark Crab Apple Trees To Be Replaced

  The flowering crab apple trees that ring the National Library of Medicine are capable of supporting "blossom" in both spring and winter, but must soon be replaced.

If you've walked around the southeast corner of the campus in springtime, you've seen them. They look like vast umbrellas covered with pink snowballs but they're actually Arnold flowering crab apple trees, or Malus arnoldiana. These broad, graceful plants bracket the two NLM buildings, 38 and 38A, and are as much an NLM trademark as the funky geometric roof. Sadly, they're not in good health and will soon have to be replaced.

"The flowering crab apples are about 50 years old and that's about 10 years past their prime," explained Lynn Mueller, head of grounds maintenance at the NIH Office of Research Facilities. "You can see that just about each tree is now suffering from heartwood decay, root rot and branch dieback. Some are leaning over as a result of root failure. Like all living things, these beautiful trees have a natural life span and they've come to the end of it. Unfortunately, it's time to do something about that. It will be a tragedy removing them as they have become an NIH landmark."

The trees are an old variety not commonly grown by nurseries anymore. Over the past 40 years, however, many hardier varieties have been developed. Mueller has been scouting replacement plants at area nurseries and hopes to begin removing the current trees and planting replacements between now and late March.

"To be honest, it will take about 10 years to regain that distinctive umbrella form," Mueller pointed out. "But, in the meantime, the small trees will bloom and grow, and we'll immediately begin to prune them into that umbrella shape. We'll treat the outgoing and incoming trees with tender loving care and will do most of the work on weekends, so that we don't disturb pedestrian or vehicle traffic."

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