Walking to the centre of town I noticed a lot of small leaves on the ground. Like every year around this time they were whirling down from the elm trees in Amsterdam. They are excruciatingly beautiful when there is a bit of wind and the sun is shining through them. You can witness this scene at the Sarphatistraat and in the streets lining the canals.There are about seventy-thousand elm trees in Amsterdam; the biggest population in the world.
Down on the ground small children are taking heapes of them in their little hands, playing with them or throwing them at each other.The leaves are actually the seeds of the tree and are more or less one centimetre by one centimeter.
Sometimes they are already there by Kingsday ( 27th of april). Kingsday is the day when we celebrate the birthday of the King. Almost everybody is out on the street selling and buying old stuff people have at their homes and performing something, for instance playing the violin. It’s mainly children who are performing. All’n all it is a very special day here in the Netherlands, especially when the weather is good and people are walking down the streets , eating and drinking together. A couple of years ago I tried to sell some t-shirts and because I didn’t sell them all I took some home. Years later I found these small leaves in the box which I had carried the t-shirts in and I had to clean it, which was not so easy!
The Dutch Elm is actually a Belgian Elm. The official name for it is: Ulmus Hollandica ‘Belgica’.The elm was probably cultivated around 1694 in Ieper, Belgium, a crossbreed between an Ulmus Minor and an Ulmus Glabia. It appeared to be very strong and could defend itself against the seawind and the brackish water. A situation which was very common back then. The tree arrived here in the Netherlands, especially in the coastal provinces and in Amsterdam. The tree was also exported by Dutch traders, hence the name ‘Dutch Elm’. You can recognize the Dutch Elm by its spreading branches, look at the trees stretching out its arms. The leaves have a lopsided leafbase, are a colour green between dark and light and about ten centimetre long. The treetrunk is rough and has vertical ribs.
The only problem with the Dutch Elm is that it is very vulnerable to a disease called the ‘Elm disease’. Many trees died in the twenties of the last century and the ‘ordinary Dutch Elm’ was replaced by different breeds like the Huntingdon Elm, the Dodoens Elm and the New Horizon.
As I am finishing this text, this period of whirling leaves has almost ended and we have to wait till next year to see the magic happening again.
5th of May 2017
I would like to thank Sandra Meadows in New York city for her help of editing this text.
Blankers, Eddie and Stiller, Louis, Het Amsterdamse bomenboek. Amsterdam, 2007.