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KC's Champion of Trees

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

on the latest care and treatment methods. In those early years he often worked seven days a week trimming trees and warding off diseases and pests afflicting homeowners' trees in metropolitan Kansas City.

Perhaps his biggest nemesis was the devastating spread of the Dutch elm disease. Kansas City's streets and parkways were home to an estimated 125,000 American elms. Many more existed on private property. "It was the ideal tree for street planting," Brasher remarks. The crowns of full grown trees would touch and seem to envelop a street in foliage. "It was like driving through a tunnel," he remembers.

The elm was an ideal food source for the elm bark beetle, a native of Europe and the carrier of the disease. Females laid their eggs under the bark. When the eggs hatched out, the young would move to other trees to feed, infecting them with the fungus. A tree's one defense was to shut off the flow of sap, which also kept it from taking up water and nutrients. In time, the elms withered and died. "The trees were so close together along the streets it went down the block like dominoes," Brasher says.

Early on, about all arborists like Brasher could do was cut down the dead elms. Then fungicides came along, but the mechanisms for injecting them into trees were crude at best. In the late 1950s Brasher rigged up an injection system that relied on a small air compressor to keep the pressure constant. In time, the fungicides and the system improved and the spread of the tree plague slowed. Still, it wiped out well over half of the city's American elms.

Brasher was quickly acquiring an almost encyclopedic knowledge of trees. He was careful to take note of the experiences of others in his field. Perhaps most influential was Stanley R. McLane, the landscape supervisor for the J.C. Nichols Co., developer of the Country Club Plaza shopping district and residential areas. McLane, 25 years Brasher's senior, did what he could to pass along a lifetime of knowledge about trees and plants.

Brasher also inherited one other important thing from McLane. It was his list of the city's 100 champion trees, the largest of their kind by girth, height and crown spread. McLane prepared his first list in 1955, but he never revised it. Brasher tucked the list away and there it lay for several years.

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