A towering Belgium elm tree that has grown along with Boston for the past century was cut down and laid in pieces on the back of a truck Wednesday, the latest city tree to be felled after testing positive for Dutch elm disease.
The 100-year-old elm near the Charles Sumner statue in the Boston Public Garden shrank smaller and smaller as workers sawed off branches and limbs Wednesday morning and cut its massive trunk into pieces to prevent the spread of the disease that wilts, curls, and yellows a tree’s leaves before eventually killing it.
It was the fourth elm to be removed in the city this year, according to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Three other infected elms along the Boylston Street edge of the garden were removed last summer, and one elm on Boston Common is expected to be removed soon, according to the Friends of the Public Garden, an organization that helps care for the Garden, the Common, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
The organization has teamed with the city to identify and treat trees infected by the elm bark beetles that spread the disease, but once a tree is infected by root graft, it cannot be saved.
“When a grand old tree dies, it touches something deeply in everybody,” said Elizabeth Vizza, executive director of the Friends group.
The removed trees were all 80 to 100 feet tall, Vizza said, and provided significant shade.
Their removal has allowed more sunlight to reach smaller shrubs and trees nearby and opened new views to the pond, which Vizza called a “bittersweet thing.”
Workers began cutting the latest diseased tree at 9 a.m. and by 1 p.m. all that remained was a stump surrounded by sawdust.
At midday the transformation was hard to ignore.
Passersby turned toward the work as they walked while others stopped for minutes at a time to watch tree slowly but surely disappear.
“It’s always sad to see something that old be taken away,” Paul Swindlehurst, who works across the street and visits the park year round, said as he watched workers cut a section of the trunk.
While disappointed that the tree had to be removed, Swindlehurst acknowledged that it would help the park as a whole and praised those who work to maintain the thriving, historic parklands.
“It takes a lot of smart people who really know what they’re doing to keep the park like this,” he said.
Rocio Rubio of Spain was surprised to see such a large tree being cut down.
Rubio, who is spending a month in Boston, has visited the garden two or three times a week during her stay and left her lunch companion to watch the removal closely.
“It’s a pity . . . it’s so big” Rubio said between the roars of the machinery cutting into the tree.
Rubio, who is studying agricultural engineering, agreed that the tree had to be removed if it would infect others.
“If they are cutting it, it’s necessary, but . . . ” she said, trailing off with a shrug, and motioning to the work site where another section of trunk was being lifted into the waiting truck.Globe correspondent Sarah N.
Mattero contributed to this
report. Johanna Kaiser
can be reached at johanna.