Notable Trees in Salem by Chris Burke

My Favorite Trees in Salem

December 1, 2017
By Chris Burke

Salem, Massachusetts has a greater concentration of old and venerable trees than any municipality of its size in the United States.

There are reasons why Salem is blessed with so many majestic trees. Here are a few: 

1) We started early. Governor John Endicott arrived in Salem in 1628 to lead the colony. A few years later he planted a pear tree that survives in Danvers on what was Endicott's farm which was then part of Salem. A graft of that original tree still "grows" near the Salem waterfront at the National Maritime Site.

2) Salem was blessed with great gardeners and horticulturalists. John M. Ives, F. Carol Sargent, Robert Manning, John Robinson, Harlan Kelsey, Florence Ver Planck and others made important contributions to horticulture in Salem.

3) Salem was wealthy at a time when the rural cemetery movement swept the country and Salem had the physical space to plant two large cemeteries with a variety of trees. In the case of Greenlawn Cemetery, the Sargent family of Salem had an important connection with the Arnold Arboretum. Salem Cemetery Commissioner F. Carroll Sargent along with Harlan Kelsey took advantage of that and planted a variety of trees and shrubs in Greenlawn Cemetery that is only matched by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

4) For a small city, Salem has large parks. Mack Park, Forest River Park, Highland Park, Salem Willows Park, each of these parks are naturally forested or planted with interesting old trees.



So I begin this blog to talk about individual Salem trees, Salem horticultural history and the characteristics of tree species located in Salem. I am self-taught when it comes to trees and  I expect to make mistakes along the way. I welcome comments and corrections and leads to any tree related subjects. Tell me about your favorite tree in Salem. (my email is burkechrisb@aol.com)


Here are a few of my favorite trees in Salem.  Besides being ancient, giant and set in beautiful places, I like these trees because they are rare, not so rare that they are endangered, but modern day arborists and landscape architects for various reasons do not usually plant these trees.  Each of the trees below has a history of when and why it was planted, which I hope to explore in this blog.






Amur Cork Tree, Salem Willows

To my taste, this is the most beautiful tree in Salem. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not share my enthusiasm for the tree. It is on the Massachusetts do not plant list. It is considered non-native and invasive. From my experience, I have not seen a single instance of it “volunteering” anywhere in Salem. I have counted seven of these trees growing in Salem. All are in settings where they were clearly planted.







Cucumber Tree, Harmony Grove Cemetery

This tree contributes to the prettiest acre in Salem; the lawn at the entrance to Harmony Grove Cemetery on Grove Street. It is the first tree to the right after you pass through the gate and stands among several trees that are more than 150 years old.










Black Walnut Tree, North Street, Salem

How does this tree survive in this setting? Its lumber is precious and it drops tennis ball size nuts onto the parking lot of two businesses. A tip of the hat to the owner.  Maybe like me, he/she appreciates that it is a perfectly shaped, giant of a tree, long may it thrive.










American Elm Tree, House of Seven Gables, Hardy Street

The largest of Salem’s surviving American elms. It is a wonderfully proportioned tree. Could it be the very tree that Hawthorne spoke of in the first paragraph of the House of Seven Gables - The Pyncheon Elm?











The Robert Manning Centennial Beech Tree, Dearborn Street

This tree was planted by Manning in 1876 on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.













American Elm, 25 Chestnut Street

One of four American elm street-trees in Salem that survive the Dutch elm scourge. (There are others on private property.)  This tree with its high foliage and dappled shade is perfectly suited to frame this beautiful home built for Pickering Dodge in 1802.  













London Plane, Salem Willows (next to Hobbs)

The London plane is England’s echo to the American sycamore. A hybrid of the American sycamore it is almost exclusively planted in the place of the sycamore because it tolerates city conditions.  By any name, this is a majestic tree.












Siberian Elm, Greenlawn Cemetery

I love the massive trunk of this giant, exotic elm.













Sassafras Trees, 365 Essex Street

These trees were planted by Salem’s greatest landscape designer, Harlan Kelsey, in 1902 when he was hired by the Low family to landscape the 1748 Cabot, Endicott, Low House. He not only got the job, he married the daughter. He married Florence Low in 1904.













Tulip Tree, 3 Federal Street Court

This is one of the Salem’s oldest trees. It is almost 200 years old. It is also Salem’s tallest tree.
















Metasequoia, McIntyre Park, Chestnut Street

Across the street from Hamilton Hall, this 80-foot tall conifer sheds its needles each year. It stands in a beautiful but ill-fated plot of land where two churches have burned, perhaps it was always meant to be a park.












Silver Maple, Ropes Garden, Essex Street

Landscapers stopped using this once common, native tree long ago. It is rare to see a young silver maple. This garden was designed for the Ropes sisters by John Robinson and has been  open to the public since 1912.












Golden Rain Tree, At the PEM Walkway


The Peabody Essex Museum has landscaped the pedestrian walkway between Charter Street and Essex Street with Asian themed trees including Chinese witch hazel, red dawn cypres, and golden rain trees. This golden rain tree is on Charter Street as you enter the walkway.












Red Mulberry Tree




This red mulberry tree is in the Forest River Park. It is one of three ancient mulberry trees that date back to the Hemenway Estate. Mary Hemenway owned the twenty-nine-acre estate. In her day she was said to be the wealthiest single woman in Massachusetts. She passed away in 1894. John Spenser bought the land from her estate, held it until the city was ready and then sold it to the Salem at cost when Salem was ready to convert the seaside estate for a park in 1907.











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Endicott Pear at the Salem Maritime site
Black Walnut Tree at Harmony Grove Cemetery
Ash Tree Salem Willows