One of the most visited sites in Salem is the Charter Street Cemetery, originally known as the Old Burying Point. It is the city’s oldest cemetery and was established in 1637.
The Old Burying Point is home to some of Salem's oldest trees and some of the trees in this
cemetery are not found anywhere else in Salem.
In 2018 The City of Salem plans to renovate this cemetery. When the renovations to the cemetery are complete, several of these trees will be removed, so the next few months is the time for one last visit to see these great trees before they are cut down.
The diagram below shows in bold outline the boundary to the cemetery. I have numbered the trees in the cemetery mostly in a clockwise fashion.
2,3. Amur Cork
4, 16 Scarlet Red Oak
5. Mountain Maple
6,14,15. English White Oak
7. Tree of Heaven
8,12. Hop Tree
9. Red Cedar (3)
10,13. Red Mulberry
17,21. Black Locust
19. Northern Red Oak
20. Eastern Cottonwood
Near the Charter Street entrance look left to the tree closest to the wrought Iron fence of the Witch Trial Memorial. This is a hackberry tree. The hackberry has a unique gray bark. I would describe it as crinkly. The leaves are similar to the nearby cork tree, but notice these leaves are serrated on the edges and the cork leaves are smooth. Notice too, the small galls that typically form on the leaves of the hackberry tree. Both the hackberry and the cork produce berries in the spring. The hackberrys' are edible, the corks' berries are not. This hackberry tree has lost a major limb and has a gash on its trunk. It will likely be removed with the cemetery improvements.
Amur Cork Trees
In the same vicinity of the hackberry are two Amur cork trees. These trees are rare in Salem, by my count there are are seven of them in the city. These two cork trees are healthy and should survive the renovation. The cork tree has thick, furrowed bark. Wine corks are not made not from this type of tree, but from cork oak trees.
Cork tree berries and leaves
Cork tree bark
One scarlet oak tree occupies the middle point of the cemetery(no. 4 on the diagram) and the other grows in the chained off Peele family plot. (no. 15 on the diagram, shown in the picture in 1900)
Scarlet oaks are in the red oak family.
Scarlet oaks leaf lobes are deeply indented, the bark is smoother than most types of red oaks and the acorns are smaller and the cap covers more of the acorn.
Both of these scarlet oak trees are healthy and will survive the renovation.
The scarlet oak in the Peele family burial plot as it was in 1900.
The same scarlet oak as it appears today.
This is the only tree of this type (that I know of) in Salem. This is an old tree but it has only
Mountain maple leaves.
grown to 25 feet, which is typical of its type. The mountian maple has a very distinctive leaf so it is easy to identify. This particular tree has rot at its base and will probably be removed.
English White Oaks
There are three English white oaks in the Charter Street Cemetery and these trees are among the most venerable of Salem’s trees. The oldest may be the oldest tree in Salem. (no. 6 in the diagram) White oaks are known as a slow growing tree, yet this tree has a circumference of 13 feet.
These trees were already old when the Salem botanist, Prof. John Robinson, wrote of them in 1890 in his book about Salem
trees called "Our Trees". Although not very tall, about 50 feet, English white oaks do have a wide wingspan and thick twisted branches.
English white oak
The leaves are small and the lobes rounded. The stems, aka petioles, of the leaves are short. The stems of the acorn are long.
Unfortunately, number 6, the oldest tree, is likely to be removed this year, its trunk is rotted through.
Leaves and acorns of the English white oaks
Tree of Heaven
This is among the most prolific of the local invasive trees. “If there were not so many of them, they would be considered beautiful.” So says the young girl in the old coming-of-age book, "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" about her beloved tree of heaven growing next to her fire escape. There are about ten of these trees growing at the edges of the Charter Street Cemetery. These trees will all be removed with the renovation.
My friend Barbara Warren identified this tree for me. I think I would still be scratching my head trying to place it. Once you know it, it is distinctive. Its leaves always grow in threes and in the fall its individual seed is found in the center of a silver dollar sized
Hop tree leaves of three
wafer called a samara. Do not confuse the name with a completely different tree, the hophornbeam.
Unfortunately, this tree, according to the current plan, is to be removed. This tree is healthy and it is a rare in Salem. These two trees (no.8 and 12 on the diagram) are the only two growing in Salem, that I know of.
Hop tree samara seeds
Northern White Cedar
Northern White Cedar trees.
Three large cedar trees grow on the back wall above Derby Street.
This may be the best producing red mulberry tree (no.10 in the diagram) in the city. There are quite a few in
the cemetery, I have identified two by number, but there are some smaller ones as well. The red mulberry tree can be messy. This one drops berries on the sidewalk below and for that reason I am told, it is likely to be removed. Red mulberry is a native tree and its berries are edible and sweet.
The black locust is not native to Massachusetts, but it is native to many areas east of the Mississippi. I love the thick furrows of bark that wrap like cables around mature black locusts. When they bloom in April you see just how common the tree is. It is prolific in Salem in small wooded areas and abandoned lots. It is unusual for a black locust to be included in a landscaping plan, but five were planted as part of the Witch Trial Memorial next to the Charter Street Cemetery. ( no. 21 on the diagram.) Black locusts are perfectly suited to this setting and though they were planted relatively recently, 1992, these trees look old and elegant.
This tree is outside the cemetery, but it is such a magnificent tree I wanted to include it. You can see it from the cemetery in the grassy area on Central Street next to the bank parking lot. It grows on land that was once part of the tidal area of the South River.
As we said, this cemetery was once called the Old Burying Point and looking down at this cottonwood from the height of the cemetery, the steepness of the old point is apparent. Cottonwoods like wet feet, so this giant cottonwood is well situated. Cottonwoods grow fast. I think this tree may be less than 70 years old.