ASTORIA — A century-old tree that was chopped down by city workers this spring to the dismay of local residents could turn over a new leaf.
An arborist is using a salvaged piece of the massive American Elm — which had grown on 34th Street for decades before it was cut down by the Parks Department in March — to try to clone the tree, which was beloved by neighbors on the block.
Residents had watched in horror three months ago as workers cut down the tree, which the Parks Department said had begun to show signs of decay.
Anna Jutis, who's lived on the block for more than 40 years, kept several pieces of the tree that were left behind as mementos — including a large section of a branch, which she put in her backyard.
Jutis was surprised, she said, when she noticed the piece begin to sprout new branches and bright green leaves a few weeks ago.
"Suddenly we noticed a little branch, and then gradually longer and longer, and more, more all around," said Jutis, a retired paraprofessional. "I was so happy. That tree did not die. That tree survived."
A neighbor who learned of the tree's re-birth contacted David McMaster of Bartlett Tree Experts, who came and took cuttings from the Elm on Monday afternoon and will use them to try and grow clones of the original tree.
"It's going to have 100 percent DNA of the original plant," he said. "To try and get 100 percent of the real tree back to them."
McMaster will bring the 15 to 20 cuttings he took to the greenhouse at John Bowne High School in Flushing, where he and students in the agriculture program will attempt to get them to grow roots by dipping them in a "root generating hormone" and planting them in perlite and water.
"We basically keep them wet and have them in the right conditions in the greenhouse," McMaster said, saying he has yet to clone an American Elm but that the species is known for having a high success rate.
McMaster said while it's not common, it's possible for pieces of a tree to continue to sprout branches even after it's been cut down, as Jutis' did.
"I wouldn’t say it happens a lot. It definitely happens," he said, noting that the chances are improved by the fact that the tree was cut down in late March — when plants are getting ready to start growing leaves again for the spring.
"The plant was already in gear. There’s no stopping a plant," he said.
Niki Patterson, who lives across the street from where the old Elm used to stand, said she thinks it would be "amazing" if the group succeeds.
"If they're able to build a new bud from the tree, it's really neat," she said, adding that the block feels empty without the shade and branches of the original one.
"It was such a huge part of this street. To look across the street and not see a tree — it's depressing," she said.
While the Parks Department estimated the Elm was more than 70 years old, Jutis said she and neighbors believe it was there for more than a century.
"That tree really was very old, and the older the tree, the stronger," she said.
If McMaster succeeds in getting the samplings to grow roots, it will take about six to eight years before they'll be large enough to plant, he said.
Jutis said she'll be happy if they live on wherever they're planted, and that she'll stay in touch with the tree experts to see how the project goes.
"In the meantime, I have the memories," she said.