Chinese evergreen elm tree

Elm Trees

Elm trees are deciduous trees that originated in Asia about forty million years ago. There are over 30 species of elms, but there are only eight in North America. Elm trees have oval-shaped leaves with saw-toothed edges and are pointy at the end. The veins of the leaf are usually very visible too. The bark is rough with deep grooves. The structure of an elm tree is like an umbrella with wide spreading limbs and some drooping branches. Elm trees flower in the spring and then round flat seeds with a little hook fall afterward. Elms are located in places with sun or part shade and areas of moist soil.

The American elm tree was once one of America’s most common trees until Dutch elm disease wiped many out. Dutch elm disease is a fungal disease that grows in the tree’s sapwood. This disease is hard to control because it can spread in underground roots and infect surrounding trees nearby. This can be a slow process of death by killing the tree branch by branch and can last several years.

Symptoms Your American Elm Tree May have Dutch Elm Disease:

  • Some leaves are wilting, yellowing, or browning in a season other than Fall. If the infection starts in the upper crown, you will see the end of individual branches being affected. This is called flagging.

  • If the infection starts towards the roots and the lower crown of the tree, symptoms can affect the whole tree faster.

  • Branches and stems affected will have dark streaks of discoloration in the bark. To find out, cut off a dying branch, cut deep into the wood to see the cross-section, and see if there are is any brown streaks in the wood.

  • Symptoms are usually observed in the early summer but can occur at any time.

  • The disease can also be spread by elm bark beetles tunneling into one tree then moving another. These beetles are attracted to sick or dying elm trees.

  • A healthy and sick elm tree.

To combat this disease, it is important that your neighborhood properly finds and removes any sick elm trees. Those with elms should also properly prune them and look into possible insecticides or fungicides to protect your trees. A local arborist can help you identify, heal, remove or protect your tree.

Ash Trees

There are several types of ash trees, including green, black, white, and blue. Green and white are most commonly found in the Midwest and all ash trees are vulnerable to pesky beetles. An ash tree has opposing branches, 5-11 leaflets on a leaf, and bark with diamond-shaped ridges. White and green ash trees also have thick, diamond-patterned bark. If this description fits and you have an ash tree, it is very important to keep an eye out for emerald ash borers in your area. Emerald ash borers, which are invasive beetles, are wiping out trees, causing many states to quarantine areas with infected trees.

These infectious beetles originated in Asia and have now spread to the U.S and are found in the upper Midwest. They are metallic emerald green and are only about half an inch long, so spotting them can be tricky. These pesky beetles are spreading quickly and are predicted to infest all unprotected trees in the U.S. and Canada in the next 20 years. How do they cause such destruction? They harm the ash trees by laying eggs on the bark. These eggs hatch into larvae that tunnel into the tree and consume its sapwood. This interrupts the tree’s water flow, which dehydrates the tree and slowly kills it.

Whether your ash tree is healthy or not, it should still be treated and protected from the meddlesome emerald ash borer. It is hard to detect an early infestation, so it is better to be proactive.

Symptoms that your tree is infected include:

  • Early coloration in the fall

  • Branches coming out from the lower trunk

  • Woodpeckers

  • D-shaped exit holes

  • Branches dying from the top down

  • Sparse foliage

The quarantines mentioned earlier were implemented to prevent further spreading of emerald ash borers.

While websites advise using insecticides, they can be hazardous. Your city may have restrictions or guidelines on insecticides. Chopping your ash tree down Paul Bunyan style won’t solve anything either. Your tree could be perfectly healthy or you could risk spreading borers when transporting the wood to the dump. Treating and protecting trees should be left to the pros.

Oak Trees

Oak trees are a favorite for landscaping, furniture, and flooring. They create a colorful display in the fall with red and brown leaves. There are many different types of oak trees: white, red, black, bur, and cherry bark, to name a few. An oak tree can be identified by its leaves. They are lobe or sinus-like, similar to the lobe shape of a brain. The ends of the lobes can be pointy or round. The bark of oak trees are hard and some sort of gray, with deep ridges. Oak trees can grow to be quite large, and they also produce acorns.

Oak trees can get common tree diseases like anthracnose, root rot, or leaf scorch. Oak wilt can kill your trees within the year they become infected. A good indication of oak wilt is if your leaves at the top turn brown but fall off with still some green color on the leaf. If your oak tree isn’t its normal beautiful green self, contact your local arborist right away.

Do you know what trees you have in your yard now? If you have any questions at all about your tree, never hesitate to call a local expert. They can tell you the specifics and give top-notch advice. Your trees are a vital part of your yard. Being proactive and detecting things early on will result in a very healthy tree.

Picture Credit:

Dutch elm disease:

Healthy vs sick ash tree:

  The elm, tree of milk and wine 

The story I am going to tell started in the Himalaya in 1960. In the preceding years I had tried to collect additional basic material for our elm breeding project which was started back in 1927 by Christine Buisman, continued after her death in 1936 by Johanna Went, from whom I took it over in 1953. I collected budwood from good-looking surviving elms mainly in France, England, Ireland and Holland, hoping some might have a useful degree of resistance to the disease but also resistance to sea wind, which we need in our elms. Thereby we got experience in sending budwood home by mail in fall and having it grafted in the greenhouse. Getting budwood by correspondence was not successful. So, when our single clone of Ulmus wallichiana was badly damaged in the severe winter of 1955/56, our Elm Committee decided I should go to the Himalaya myself and select good types (good shape, frost resistance, hopefully even higher resistance to disease) of U. wallichiana there. The species played a pivotal role in our breeding: we had many small-leaved clones of U. minor with a reasonable level of disease resistance, which we wanted to combine with a resistant large-leaved clone, so repeating the success story of U. x hollandica. But the large-leaved U. glabra was uniformly very susceptible, and so was U. elliptica, its relative from the Caucasus; the only remaining candidate with an acceptable level of resistance was U. wallichiana, whose morphology and ecology are more or less comparable to U. glabra. A wider range of genotypes of that species from the colder valleys of the Himalaya seemed desirable.

So, after extensive preparations, I found myself in beautiful Kashmir, in the foothills of the Himalaya, in August 1960. The valley of Kashmir, with its large lakes, lies at some 1600 m a.s.l.; as U. wallichiana occurs roughly at altitudes of between 1800 and 3000 m, we had to ascend into the surrounding hills. The Indian Forest Service, and the Botanical Survey of India provided liberal assistance. Soon, in a mixed coniferous forest that looked like our alpine forests, we found our first U. wallichiana. What a disappointment! It was a crooked stump, with hardly any branches or twigs. I had come here hoping to find trees with a good shape for Dutch conditions, not expecting monstrosities like this one. Fortunately, in the following days, the story behind this tree unfolded. We found another elm, what a relief, this time a well-grown middle-aged tree indeed, but with some damage in the crown. There was a shepherd with his sheep around, my companions asked him something, he agreed, went to the elm, put a small long-shafted axe in his belt, took his shoes off and climbed bare-footed rapidly into the crown of the tree. There he started cutting twigs with leaves and threw those down. I was happy, as I could choose and cut good budwood, put it in polythene and wrap the bag in a wet cloth to keep it cool. But the shepherd did it to give his sheep good fodder: they came and ate the leaves eagerly. The shepherd was on his way to lower elevations, end-summer in the annual vertical trek, which we call transhumance in Europe. On his way down through this valley, passing through the semi-public forest he would lop elms as their leaves were an excellent fodder. If the tree was ruined in the process, he would scarcely care. It was a destructive way of lopping. We saw more of such elms on our way: if you want to be a shepherd here, you must be able to climb trees! (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – The shepherd climbing on an elm for destructive lopping.

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But the story goes on. We also often saw elms, mostly close to habitation or between fields, which were carefully lopped (Fig. 2), while the cut twigs were stored orderly in a fork. These twigs would be collected in winter by the owner of the tree and serve as a rich winter fodder for the animals, next to straw of corn and other poor foodstuff. Hay seemed not to be present. So, besides the fatal overuse of the elms by the shepherds, there was a sustainable use by the sedentary farmers, they even planted elms solely for this purpose. We passed by a farmhouse where three young trees had been planted recently: a peach, an almond and an elm. We asked the farmer why he had chosen these three species (silly questions these foreigners can ask!): “Well, obviously, the fruit trees for the humans, the elm for the cow”. We saw one village surrounded by a row of planted elms (). But both the destructive lopping in the forest and the sustainable lopping by the farmers would prevent the trees from flowering, preventing natural regeneration. Occasionally, some other tree species was lopped for fodder. One specimen of ash (Fraxinus sp.) was seen, it was lopped.

Fig. 2 – Sustainable use of elm: the tree on the left has been lopped very carefully; the others will follow.

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Back in Europe, I found to my surprise that there is a solid body of literature on the use of tree leaves for fodder here too, both in the distant and in the near past. In some regions this use exists even today.

First the distant past. In archeology, there is a continuing discussion on the so-called elm decline, a widespread and severe reduction of the presence of elm pollen in European pollen diagrams of about 6000 years ago over a large part of the continent. As this coincided more or less with the immigration of new groups of farmers, scientists suggested these farmers kept their cattle mainly in kraals close to habitation, and fed them with lopped tree twigs and leaves (). Preferred tree species were elm and ash, perhaps with lime and rowan at the side. Other tree species were less or not edible. Young and inner bark of elm may have been used as a very good fodder for pigs and horses, even for calves and in emergency as food for humans.

Discussions continue on the question how much impact this human use of elm might have had on the elm population of those days, and in how far it could explain or have contributed to the reduction of elm pollen in the diagrams. After all, the human population was perhaps too low to explain it all by itself. Some scientists have therefore suggested a hypothetical disease that might have reduced the elm population; elsewhere, I have argued that the human uses of elm may have started local outbreaks of elm bark beetles which by their sheer numbers killed weakened and old trees, perpetuating the outbreak over a number of years until it was smothered by a wet and cool summer ().

But all speculations on the prehistoric human use of elms are based on well-documented historical cases of such use. These are overwhelming, and one may assume that our forebears knew all survival tricks based on leaves and bark that Machatscheck () describes for the farmers in the Alps and the Balkan. Leaf fodder in general was an essential element in husbandry in large parts of Europe, lately still in Scandinavia, in the Alps and in the Balkan. Lopping the trees for leaf hay was done with a traditional kind of knife, the Gertel (Fig. 3). Traditional farmhouses in Switzerland had a Laube, a room open to the outside but well protected against rain, where the leaf hay or Laub was stored. The Swiss family name Lauber apparently goes back to a person or family that was particularly good in lauben, lopping for fodder. Elm and ash were the favorite species, but it was elm that got the highest praise. Elm leaf hay had the highest nutritional value, “better than the best hay”, “as the best lucerne-hay”, “as barley flour” (, , , , , , ). It was even used to fatten pigs. It was a very healthy food, good for the teeth of the animals, and it would give a good taste to butter and milk, while ash leaves could cause a rancid taste. Domestic animals are not the only customers; many animals in the zoo, including elephants and giraffes, appreciate elm leaves as a delicacy. Young shoots were cooked and eaten as vegetables by humans, and meal of elm leaves was an emergency food in various regions ().

Fig. 3 – Lopping of elm in Switzerland (church in Zillis, Graubünden, ca. 1110).

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The living layers of the bark, that is bark of young parts of the tree and the inner bark of older and corky parts, are very nutritious too. Horses and pigs are fond of it, and can badly damage or kill elm trees by debarking them. Voles, rabbits, hare, goats and sheep can likewise girdle and kill elms. Chopped or shaven bark was given to the cows in Norway, while the slime that could be extracted in water from it was given to young calves. But there was an even more valuable use for elm bark, it could save lives: in years of famine, a good quality bread could be baked with the inner bark of elms. Fishermen sailed deep into the fjords to barter their best fish against elm bark (, , ). Therefore, an elm could serve as a wedding gift, even the usufruct could do. Elms were planted as a fruit tree. Elm was the life-saving Nordens Brødfrugttræ (), so some old elms were seen as sacred trees, and there was a taboo on its cutting. Elm wood was technically perfect for skis, but if you had a fatal accident on such skis, you would not be buried in consecrated earth – as you had gone straight to hell already ().

The elm had some additional functions in European culture, which I want to mention shortly.

The fibers of elm bark could be made into strong cords; as these were used for beehives, for well-cords and in thatching, they could apparently withstand dry-wet conditions. In eastern Europe, foot wear and mats were made of them; in the XIX century, millions of such elm mats were exported to western Europe annually. The Ainu people in northern Japan traditionally made very durable clothes of elm bark: they peeled the bark off the trees in spring or fall, then soaked it in water for ten days, divided it in strips which could be used for weaving. This textile could be colored dark with oak bark or with iron-containing peat, creating bold traditional patterns (Fig. 4). But there are no indications that our European ancestors ever used clothing from bark.

Fig. 4 – A group of Ainu people wearing the traditional dress made from elm bark.

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Elm wood has been important in warfare. For both hunting and warfare, bow-and-arrow have been essential tools for many thousands of years. The very best wood for making bows came from the yew tree, but, when that one was not available or scarce, elm was the second best choice. Such was the case in the whole of northern Europe, where the yew, in its trek to the north, arrived late: in Scandinavia, elm was the standard bow for millennia. In the Middle Ages, when the longbow was popular and the yew scarce, elm was recommended as a replacement, to stretch the stock of yew. Later still, shock-resistant elm wood was very much in demand by the military for gun carriages and other equipment; that is why several French kings, but also the French Revolution launched campaigns exhorting people to plant elms.

American Elm Tree

A Nostalgic and Fast Growing Shade Tree

The American Elm is truly an American tree. The American Elm will grow nearly anywhere in Central and Eastern America. From the humid, hot landscapes of the Deep South to the cold, bitter temperatures of the Northern Plains and everywhere in between, this tree thrives.

Just plant it and watch it grow. The American Elm grows fast in any type of soil and environment. You can just plant this tree on a weekend and enjoy it for the rest of your life. With very little attention and care, your American Elm will grow 3-6 feet each year. From polluted urban neighborhoods with poor soil to pristine country landscapes, the American Elm survives.

Plant a tree for your family that they’ll enjoy for generations. The American Elm will outlive you for centuries. Most American Elms live up to 300 years, so you’ll be planting a tree that will live in your families’ yard for longer than your great-grandkids will be around.

The American Elm is the perfect shade tree. With a grand, tall trunk and a gorgeous fountain of leaves and branches that canopy over into a rounded crown, your family will love sitting under the shade of the America Elm.

The thick leaves transition beautifully through the seasons. The leaves of the American Elm are large, shiny and a deep green that transforms into golden yellow in the fall. In the spring, small, subtle clusters of flowers appear and perfectly accent the strong, massive foliage.

You’ll be mesmerized by the fascinating bark. The bark of the American Elm is captivating with a bouquet of shapes that meet together in a jigsaw-like fashion. Old leave scars give the appearance of a cat’s face. Imagine a warm summer day with your family under the shade of your American Elm tree, picking out shapes in the bark like watching clouds transform in the sky.

Everyone wants a piece of nostalgia. Because it’s the perfect tree for the American family, they sell quickly. Don’t hesitate to bring back a piece of American history to your yard.

Planting & Care

American Elm trees are very large and their root systems are extensive and shallow. Find a place in your yard that will give the tree room to grow. The American Elm needs 6 hours of full sun a day, so plant in full sun or partial shade. The tree can grow in many soil conditions, but it needs plenty of water. Adding mulch to the base of your tree will help keep the moisture in and prevent weeds and grass competition.

Planting Instructions: You can plant your tree anytime of the year, but they are best planted between early spring and late fall. You don’t need to add anything to your soil when planting. Add 2-3 inches of mulch around the base of the tree.

Watering: You can water your tree every week during its young life. If it rains, you don’t need to water your American Elm at all. After a couple years, you only need to water the tree during very dry spells.

Fertilization: Don’t add any fertilizer in the first year of your American Elm’s life. After the first year, you can add a balanced fertilizer to the soil every spring. Be sure to follow the manufactures instructions carefully as it is easy to over-fertilize the Elm. As your tree grows older, you don’t need to add any fertilizer at all.

Pruning: You don’t need to prune the American Elm, but it can be helpful to remove dead bark and branches in the fall.

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Growing Elm Trees: Learn About Elm Trees In The Landscape

Elms (Ulmus spp.) are stately and majestic trees that are an asset to any landscape. Growing elm trees provides a homeowner with cooling shade and unrivaled beauty for many years to come. Elm-lined streets were common in North America until Dutch elm disease struck in the 1930s, wiping out most of the trees. With new, disease-resistant varieties, however, elm trees are making a comeback. Let’s learn more about planting an elm tree.

About Elm Trees

Elms are native to Europe, Asia and North America. They are used as specimen trees in residential landscapes and as street and park trees. They have a shallow root system that makes it difficult to grow anything under them, but their natural beauty and the quality of their shade makes it worth forgoing a garden under the tree.

Chinese laceback elm (U. parvifolia) is one of the best elms for residential properties. It has an attractive, spreading canopy that provides far-reaching shade. Its shedding bark leaves an ornamental, puzzle-like pattern on the trunk. Here are some other types of elm trees to consider:

  • American elm (U. americana) grows up to 120 feet tall with a rounded or vase-shaped crown.
  • Smooth-leaved elm (U. carpinifolia) grows 100 feet tall. It has a conical shape with drooping branches.
  • Scottish elm (U. glabra) has a dome-shaped crown and grows to 120 feet tall.
  • Dutch Elm (U. platii) grows up to 120 feet with a wide-spreading canopy and drooping branches.

Dutch elm disease is one of the most important problems with elms. This devastating disease has killed millions of trees in the United States and Europe. Caused by a fungus spread by elm bark beetles, the disease is usually fatal. When considering planting an elm tree, always buy resistant cultivars.

Elm Tree Care

Elms prefer full sun or partial shade and moist, well-drained fertile soil. They adapt to wet or dry soil as well. They make good street trees because they tolerate urban conditions, but keep in mind than planting an elm tree near sidewalks can lead to cracks and raised areas.

You can plant container-grown trees any time of year. Bare root, balled and burlapped elms are best planted in spring or late fall. Don’t amend the soil in the hole at planting time unless it is very poor. Add a little compost to the fill dirt for poor soils. Wait until next spring to fertilize an elm tree.

Mulch the tree immediately after planting. Mulch helps the soil hold moisture and reduces competition from weeds. Use a 2-inch layer of light mulch such as shredded leaves, hay or pine needles. Use 3 inches of bark mulch.

Water young trees weekly in the absence of rain. A good way to water a young tree is to bury the end of a water hose a couple of inches in the soil and let the water run as slowly as possible for about an hour. After the first couple of years, the tree only needs watering during prolonged dry spells.

Fertilize young elms every spring with a complete and balanced fertilizer. Over-application of fertilizer can harm the tree, so follow the fertilizer manufacturer’s instructions exactly. Older trees that aren’t adding much new growth don’t need annual fertilization, but they will appreciate a light scattering of fertilizer now and then.

Dutch elm disease-resistant elm trees

Quick facts

  • Dutch elm disease (DED) affects American elms (Ulmus americana), red elms (U. rubra) and rock elms (U. thomasii) throughout Minnesota.
  • DED is one of the most widely-known tree diseases, worldwide.
  • Researchers have been working to breed and select DED-resistant trees to replace diseased trees.
  • You can now find many disease-resistant trees in home landscapes due to increased demand and nursery availability.

Since 1999, the University of Minnesota has been evaluating, selecting and screening elms for use in Minnesota. They have studied thousands of elms from many varieties. All trees listed below should be hardy in USDA Zone 4, unless otherwise noted.

Hybrid Asian elms

Hybrid Asian elms are the result of controlled breeding programs throughout North America. All have demonstrated resistance to Dutch elm disease and are great selections for tough sites where other trees won’t grow. In general, hybrid elms are smaller at maturity than their American cousins. Many have leaves and mature forms that are distinctly different from American elms.

  • Accolade™ – Smaller at maturity but similar to the typical American elm form. Strong resistance to insects such as elm leaf beetle. Widely available at most nurseries and garden centers.

  • Cathedral – Vase-like shape, with good resistance to elm leaf beetle and other leaf cutting insects. Requires regular pruning during the first 15 years to develop a sound structure.

  • Discovery – Very slow-growing and smaller in stature than other elms. Winter hardy to USDA Zone 3, as well as stress and drought tolerant.

  • Triumph™ – More upright in form than Accolade, but slightly less insect resistance.

  • Commendation™ – Hybrid of Accolade, Siberian elm, and the European field elm (U. minor). Excellent form when young with interesting bark texture. Limited availability.

  • Danada Charm™ – Fast growing upright hybrid. Lower maintenance than some other selections. Beautiful red-tinged new growth. Limited availability.

American elms

Over the last 100 years there have been dozens of American elm selections. Unfortunately, most did not survive the ravages of DED and have been lost and forgotten. The following selections have shown resistance to DED and continue to provide options for the high-canopy shade that American elms are known for.

All American elm selections require a significant investment in pruning during the first 15 years.

  • Princeton – Selected in 1922. Vigorous growth rate with very upright form. Available in most garden centers and also through mail-order.

  • Prairie Expedition – A 2004 North Dakota State University selection. Classic vase-shaped American elm with outstanding autumn gold color. Winter hardy to USDA zone 3.

  • New Harmony – A USDA selection that appears to have superior form when compared to Princeton and Valley Forge.

  • St. Croix – Selected by Mark Stennes from a massive parent tree in Afton, MN, this elm joins the ranks of Dutch elm disease-resistant elms with a Minnesota twist.

Open all | Close all Plus sign (+) if content is closed, ‘X’ if content is open. Comparison of Dutch elm disease-resistant elm varieties

Growth Rate Zone Insect Resistance Form Maintenance Requirements Height Crown Spread
Accolade™ fast 4 excellent vase moderate 40 35
Danada Charm™ v. fast 4 good vase moderate 45 30
Commendation™ v. fast 4 good oval/vase moderate 45 30
Cathedral v. fast 4 good vase very high 45 30
Discovery slow 3 good upright moderate 35 30
Frontier slow 5 fair upright low 35 20
Homestead v. fast 4 fair upright moderate 45 35
Jefferson moderate 4 good upright moderate 45 30
New Harmony fast 4 good vase moderate 45 30
New Horizon v. fast 4 fair upright high 45 30
Patriot fast 4/5 excellent vase low 35 25
Pioneer moderate 4/5 fair globe low 35 25
Prairie Expedition fast 3 good vase moderate 45 30
Princeton fast 4 fair vase very high 45 30
Prospector fast 4/5 good vase high 40 25
St. Croix v. fast 4 good wide vase very high 40 30
Triumph™ v. fast 4 good vase moderate 45 30
Valley Forge v. fast 4 fair vase very high 45 30
Vanguard™ fast 4 fair vase high 40 35

1Height and spread dimensions are growth estimates in a typical 30-year timeframe. This incorporates knowledge of mature specimens, where available. Some dimensions are estimated and will vary greatly and may be influenced by site conditions and maintenance, especially pruning.

2Insect resistance recommendations are based on observations at the University of Minnesota, the Morton Arboretum and previously published works.

Where to purchase elms

Elms are gaining popularity and many nurseries grow and sell these varieties. Check with your local garden center and ask if they can special order your favorite elm if not currently in-stock. Many American elms are also available online.

Elm maintenance

Many of these elms require considerably more pruning and training than other landscape trees, and the first 15 years often determine how they will perform for the remainder of their lives. In the case of elms, a small investment in maintenance during the “formative years” will have a huge payoff when they are approaching maturity.

Like most trees, these elms are best maintained with a strong central leader (where small limbs are pruned and the main trunk is allowed to grow tall). This ensures a straight stem and keeps the tree growing up rather than out. As the lower side branches grow and increase in diameter, they should be removed until the desired clearance for the site is reached.

Knowing when and how much to prune and maintain trees requires experience, so if you are not sure how to work on young elms, contact an experienced tree care professional to get you started right. The investment made now will pay off when your tree is growing beautifully, is structurally strong, and is providing shade on your property.

Plant different varieties of trees in your landscape to help create a sustainable ecosystem. All of the elm varieties mentioned above offer excellent potential for use in rural windbreaks. These DED-resistant elms add to the array of tree species that can be planted in the upper Midwest, contributing to greener and cooler communities throughout Minnesota.

Plus sign (+) if content is closed, ‘X’ if content is open. Sources

Chad Giblin, University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources and Gary Johnson, Extension forester

Reviewed in 2019


Common Name



  • Sun
  • Feature

Flowering Season

Summer, Spring


Some 45 species of deciduous trees and shrubs make up Ulmus, the type genus for the elm (Ulmaceae) family. Elms occur naturally in the northern temperate zones and at higher altitudes in the subtropics. Most are trees, some of which are very large, but the genus also contains some shrubs, and although most are deciduous, a few are rather tender and semi-evergreen. While the species in this genus are quite diverse, they share many common characteristics. Elm timber is very water resistant and was extensively used for the keels of large wooden sailing ships.


Elms usually develop a broad domed crown, and the bark is often furrowed or fissured. The leaves are heavily veined, coarsely serrated, pointed ovals, of variable size, depending on the species. Clusters of flowers open in spring, usually before the foliage develops. These are largely insignificant but are soon followed by conspicuous, usually pale green, winged seeds (samaras).


Elms are tough adaptable trees that do well in most soils, provided that there is adequate drainage. Most species prefer a climate with clearly defined seasons, and do best when planted in a position in full sun. In Europe and North America, Dutch elm disease, a fungal infection spread by beetle larvae, has devastated these stately trees. Cultivars are propagated by grafting, which unfortunately may help to further spread Dutch elm disease. The species may be raised from seed.

Gardening Australia suggests you check with your local authorities regarding the weed potential of any plants for your particular area.

© Global Book Publishing (Australia) Pty Ltd from Flora’s Gardening Cards

The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Notes: American Elm was indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler catalogued it (as White Elm) on April 29, 1907. It is widespread in the eastern half of North America, as far west as Montana and Colorado in the US and Saskatchewan in Canada. In Minnesota, native populations were found throughout the state with only scattered exceptions.

American Elm is one of four species of Elm found in Minnesota: U. americana, American Elm; U. pumila, Siberian Elm; U. rubra, Slippery or Red Elm; and U. thomasii, Rock or Cork Elm.

Dutch Elm Disease: This disease, imported from Europe in the 1930s, has wiped out the Garden’s extensive population of American Elm. Gardener Ken Avery’s first notation in his reports about the disease occurs in his Report for 1964 to the Board of Park Commissioners, dated March 12, 1965, when he mentions that he had the help of a tree trimming crew to remove dead and dying elm wood. He then states that he believed he made an important finding as to the sanitation of diseased wood. He found that it took only one fourth of time to debark a tree as it did to cut it up. Because there were so many large large elms in the wetland area of the Garden and just outside the Garden, removal would be difficult and this might be an important remedy to control the disease.

The progress of the disease was to last for many years. In 1975 Ken noted that the Park Board was removing diseased elms from the swamp area behind the Garden and that three trees had been removed within the Garden in 1974. In 1976 half of the remaining elms in the Garden died during the summer. Friends president Alexander Dean also noted that the loss of tree canopy in the Woodland Garden, causing the growth of brush, vines and heavy weeds, would require re-planting of trees. Beginning in the fall of 1977, small trees were being planted to replace elm losses This process continued for years during Ken’s tenure as Gardener and has resumed today by Curator Susan Wilkins. The scourge began in 1963 in the Minneapolis area and by 1986 94,988 trees had been removed with 105,012 remaining – all within the City of Minneapolis. Most of those in the Garden were lost by that time although there would be further removals of elm into the 1990s.

Uses: The wood of American Elm is coarse, heavy, but strong. It warps and splits badly and is thus used only for small wood products. Francois Michaux noted that in the 18th and early 19th Centuries the wood was used for the naves (hubs) of coach-wheels at New York and further north where it was difficult to procure the desired Black Gum. Its main use was as a ornamental, particularly as a boulevard tree. The inner bark was also used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.

As an ornamental, the White Elm was prized and was exported to Europe where Thomas Nuttall said “In France the Elm is subjected to being trimmed in artificial forms, flat surfaces, and for hedges; it is very patient of the knife.”

It is easy to see why, with its height and shape, the tree was used so much as a boulevard tree, forming arches over the avenues. Francois Michaux wrote “In clearing the primitive forests a few stocks are sometimes left standing; insulated in this manner, it appears in all its majesty, towering to the height of 80 or 100 feet, with a trunk 4 or 5 feet in diameter, regularly shaped, naked and insensibly diminishing to the height of 60 or 70 feet, where it divides into two or three primary limbs. The limbs, not widely divergent near the base, approach and cross each other 8 or 10 feet higher, and diffuse on all sides long, flexible, pendulous branches, bending into regular arches and floating lightly in the the air.”

Quotes from Michaux and Nuttall are from Volume 3 of “North American Sylva”. (Ref. #26D)

Description: At maturity, this tree is 60-100′ tall, forming a trunk 2-4′ across and an arching crown with drooping branchlets. The trunk is long and undivided in forested areas, but it is shorter in open areas before dividing into major branches. On young trees, trunk bark is gray and slightly rough overall, but it often has irregular longitudinal stripes that are colored black and white. On older trees, trunk bark is gray and more furrowed. Branches and branchlets have gray bark that is more smooth, while twigs are smooth, brown, and terete. Alternate deciduous leaves occur along the twigs and branchlets; they are typically arranged in 2 rows. The leaf blades are 3-5″ long and 1¼-3″ across; they are ovate to ovate-obovate and doubly serrated along their margins. The upper surface of the blades is medium green and smooth to slightly rough in texture (hairs are not readily visible). The lower surface of the blades is pale green and largely hairless, except for small tufts of white hair in the axils of the major veins. The major veins on the leaf undersides are often short-pubescent or canescent. The petioles are whitish or yellowish green, often short-pubescent or canescent, and very short (less than ¼” in length). The leaf blades are pinnately veined with about 15 pairs of lateral veins. The lateral veins are relatively straight and run parallel to each other. On each side of the central vein, there are 0-3 lateral veins that become conspicuously forked near the leaf margins, otherwise they are undivided.
Toward the tips of last year’s branches, perfect flowers develop in small clusters of 3-5. There are several drooping flowers per cluster; their pedicels are about ½” long. Individual flowers are about 1/8″ across, consisting of a short calyx with 7-9 lobes, an ovary with a divided style, and 7-9 stamens. The calyx is typically reddish green, while the anthers are red (but becoming dark-colored with age). These flowers bloom during early to mid-spring for about 1-2 weeks; they are cross-pollinated primarily by the wind. The flowers are replaced by flattened single-seeded samaras about 1/3″ (8 mm.) long and a little less across; they are ovate in shape, except for notches at their tips. The samaras have long hairs along their margins (ciliate), otherwise they are hairless. In the center of each samara is an ellipsoid seed that is somewhat flattened; it is surrounded by a membranous wing. At maturity during the late spring or early summer, the samaras usually become light tan (sometimes they are reddish). The samaras are distributed by the wind. In moist areas, the woody root system is shallow and spreading, but in dry areas it is more deep and develops a taproot. During the autumn, leaves turn yellow before falling to the ground.
Cultivation: The preference is full sun to light shade, moist to mesic areas, and fertile loamy soil. However, American Elm will adapt to drier areas and it can tolerate a wide range of soil types, including those that contain clay, silt, or sand. Temporary flooding is tolerated during the winter dormancy period, otherwise good drainage is required. Because of this tree’s vulnerability to Dutch Elm Disease, Phloem Necrosis, and other problems, it tends to be short-lived and usually fails to reach its mature size. It can be propagated by leaf bud cuttings.
Range & Habitat: While there has been some population decline because of disease organisms, the native American Elm is still common within Illinois; it has been found in every county (see Distribution Map). Habitats include moist to mesic deciduous woodlands, savannas, woodland openings, woodland borders, wooded terraces along major rivers, flatwoods in upland areas, shaded banks of rivers and streams, higher ground in swamps, fence rows, and roadsides. Today, American Elm is found primarily as an understory tree in both higher quality habitats and disturbed areas. At one time, it was an important canopy tree in deciduous woodlands throughout the state, particularly in bottomland areas. Some older trees are still found in isolated urban areas. Prior to the mid-20th century, American Elm was often used as a landscape tree along streets.
Faunal Associations: Even though the flowers are primarily wind-pollinated, honeybees sometimes collect pollen from them, and they may function as minor pollinators. This is possible because the flowers are perfect, rather than unisexual. Some insects feed on the foliage and other parts of American Elm and other elms (Ulmus spp.); this includes the caterpillars of the butterflies Polygonia comma (Comma) and Polygonia interrogationis (Questionmark). Elms are also host plants for the caterpillars of Nerice bidentata (Double-Toothed Prominent), Ceratomia amyntor (Elm Sphinx), and other moths. Elms are the winter hosts of several Eriosoma spp. (Woolly Aphids); they are also hosts of Calopha ulmicola (Elm Cockscomb Aphid) and Tinocallis ulmifolii (Elm Leaf Aphid). Other insect feeders include Gossyparia spuria (European Elm Scale), Corythucha ulmi (Elm Lace Bug), the plant bugs Lygocoris invitus and Reuteria irrorata, and many leafhoppers (primarily Eratoneura spp. & Erythridula spp.). American Elm is a preferred host plant of the following leafhoppers: Eratoneura affinis, Eratoneura ardens, Eratoneura basilaris, Eratoneura bigemina, Eratoneura bispinosa, and Erythridula obliqua. One species, Scaphoideus luteolus (White-Banded Elm Leafhopper), transmits the virus causing phloem necrosis. The larvae of Saperda tridentata (Elm Borer) and several other long-horned beetles bore through the wood of elms. Two species of bark beetle, Hylurgopinus rufipes (Native Elm Bark Beetle) and Scolytus multistriatus (Small European Elm Bark Beetle), transmit the fungus causing Dutch Elm Disease. Another group of insect feeders include Calligrapha scalaris (Elm Calligrapha), Monocesta coryli (Large Elm Leaf Beetle), and Xanthogaleruca luteola (Elm Leaf Beetle). TheInsect Table provides a more complete list of insect species that feed on elms.
Vertebrate animals also use American Elm and other elms as a food source. The following birds eat the seeds or buds of these trees: Wood Duck, Prairie Chicken, Wild Turkey, Carolina Chickadee, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Eastern Goldfinch, House Sparrow, and Yellow-Rumped Warbler. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker drills holes through the bark to suck the sap. Among mammals, the Gray Squirrel, Fox Squirrel, Red Squirrel, and Eastern Chipmunk eat the seeds, while the Cottontail Rabbit and White-Tailed Deer occasionally browse on the twigs and foliage. The beaver gnaws on the wood and bark of trees that grow near sources of water. Such birds as the Baltimore Oriole, Warbling Vireo, and Red-Shouldered Hawk use elms as habitat for their nests.
Photographic Location: A woodland opening and woodland border at Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: This tree is one of the fallen icons of America, but it still lingers in diminished form. It is a reasonably attractive tree with shiny leaves. In the past, the wood was used to make furniture, flooring, crates, hockey sticks, and caskets. The wood is heavy, hard, and strong, but it lacks durability and has a tendency to warp. American Elm can be distinguished from other elms (Ulmus spp.) by considering the following characteristics: 1) its samaras are ciliate along their margins, otherwise they are hairless, 2) the upper surface of its leaves is largely hairless with a smooth to slightly rough texture, 3) on each side of the central vein of a leaf, there are 0-3 lateral veins that become forked toward the leaf margin, 4) a cross-section of the bark on older trees reveals alternating light and dark layers, and 5) its terete twigs never have corky wings. Other elm trees in Illinois fail to satisfy one or more of the above characteristics.

Chinese elm (Ulmus Parviflora)

The Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is endemic to south-east Asia and especially China. In its home countries it can become a mighty tree of up to 25 m (80 ft) tall, with a trunk diameter of 1 m (3 ft). The Chinese Elm develops a fine ramification with small leaves, which makes it a very suitable Bonsai plant.

The Chinese Elm is the most popular Elm for Bonsai purposes although other elms are also very suitable. The Elm is often confused with the Zelkova but if you compare their leaves the difference is clearly recognizable; the Zelkova has single-toothed leaves whereas the Chinese Elm has double-toothed leaves.

If you need help identifying your tree, try our Bonsai tree identification guide.

Chinese Elm Bonsai movie

Specific Bonsai care guidelines for the Chinese Elm Bonsai

Position: The Chinese elm grows well in full sun and also in partial shade. In mild climates it can stay outside during the winter. A Chinese Elm bought as an indoor Bonsai can be placed outside during the summer and in winter it is best to take it into a cold frost-free room. Chinese Elms can usually endure some frost but it seems that it differs depending on the region it was imported from. Trees from northern Chinese regions seem to be more frost-hardy that those from southern areas. Depending on the temperatures of their winter quarters Chinese Elms can either drop their leaves or keep them until spring when the new shoots emerge.

Watering: The Chinese Elm must be watered generously as soon as the soil gets dry. Drought should be avoided as well as permanent wetness.

Feeding: During the growing season the Chinese Elm should be fed well. It doesn’t require very special fertilizer. A combination of solid organic fertilizer and a well-balanced liquid chemical product is a good concept. When the elm is in a cold place in winter it should not be fed during dormancy.

Pruning: If you let the Chinese Elm grow freely it will thicken rapidly. It responds well to frequent trimming which produces a dense ramification and it also buds well from old wood after strong pruning. Allow shoots to extend to 3 or 4 nodes and then prune back to 1 or 2 leaves. A good time for pruning large branches of the Chinese elm is late autumn.
The elm can be shaped very well with normal wiring and guy wires.

Repotting: Younger Chinese Elms should be repotted every two years, older and large specimens can be repotted in longer intervals. Spring is the best time for repotting. Root pruning should be done with precision and as the Chinese Elm tends to produce crooked and intertwined roots you should work on them very carefully in order to create a regular nebari as good as possible. The Chinese Elm has no special requirements concerning the soil, but it should be well-drained. A standard soil mixture can be used.

Propagation: Chinese Elm Bonsai trees can be propagated by cuttings without problems usually. Propagation by seeds is less recommendable. 

Pests and diseases: Often the Chinese Elm is infested by spider mites or scale when humidity is low. Appropriate pesticides should be used and frequent spraying with water might help additionally. Spraying with thinned lime-sulfur or systemic pesticides can make the Chinese Elm drop all its leaves, so avoid these products.

For more detailed information on these techniques, try our Bonsai tree care section.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Description & Care

Chinese Elm Bonsai ~ Ulmus parvifolia

This one of my favourite indoor bonsai; it is easy to care for and has a naturally small proportioned leaves. It is a great bonsai to style. It forms a beautiful s-shaped flowing trunk and lovely twiggy branches when correctly styled. This would be my personal recommendation for an indoor bonsai tree. I hope that you loave them as much as I do – Sarah.

The Chinese /Oriental Lacebark Elm makes a truly beautiful bonsai. The leaves are small, bright to deep green and are slightly serrated. The tree has excellent twig structure and has great character throughout, making it the perfect representation of a woodland tree. After time the silvery bark gently peels and reveals shades of red and tan; giving rise to the name Lacebark Elm. In our opinion it is the most perfectly proportioned, easy to care for and adaptable tree and makes a superb bonsai. The Lacebark can be grown as an indoor or outdoor bonsai.

Bonsai Care Tips

  • Your bonsai is a living tree and with the right care it should live for many years. We hope that your bonsai brings pleasure to your home.
  • During winter place your bonsai in the brightest place possible, trying to avoid hot objects like radiators and televisions. Good daylight is essential to the trees health. In summer time beware of hot south facing windows, a little sunlight morning or evening is beneficial, but too much and your bonsai could over heat.
  • To aid the health of your bonsai place it on a humidity tray. This will catch the water draining through the holes in the bottom of the bonsai pot. This water will create some humidity around your bonsai. Please take care that the tray does not overflow onto your furniture and make sure that your bonsai does not sit in the water.
  • Watering is the most important part of growing bonsai. Check your bonsai morning and evening to see if it needs watering. If the soil looks dark and feels wet then it will not require watering. Only when the soil looks light brown and feels damp will your bonsai require more water. Water thoroughly all over the soil until the water drains through into a tray or saucer. Never let your bonsai dry out and avoid keeping it constantly wet. The soil should go from wet to damp between watering. Remember the hotter the position the more water your bonsai will use. If the soil surface becomes hard during hot weather simply submerge your bonsai in water, to cover the soil surface, for about ten minutes.
  • To maintain the artistic grace and beauty of your bonsai it will need to be pruned regularly. Once new shoots have grown to about 2-3cm, using a sharp pair bonsai scissors carefully cut back to the first pair of new leaves.
  • To keep your bonsai strong and healthy we recommend the use of a good bonsai fertiliser. Bonsai fertiliser, an informative DVD and further advice are available from our website,
  • A bonsai is a living work of art and seasonal changes can sometimes be experienced.

Please do not be concerned if, within 2 , 3 weeks of delivery, your bonsai shows signs of yellowing or falling leaves (normally the older leaves, not the new tips). Not all bonsai will exhibit these symptoms, but it is not uncommon. Your bonsai is simply acclimatizing to its new environment. A few leaves may drop, but within a few weeks you should notice new bright green buds starting to develop.

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