Winged elm tree facts

Elm Wood: Hard and Soft

by Eric Meier

The most basic division of elm species is between hard and soft elm. The wood of the hard elms (sometimes referred to as rock elm) generally range from 41 to 47 lbs/ft3, while soft elms typically have a density from 35 to 38 lbs/ft3.

Hard Elms:

Soft Elms:

  • Winged Elm (Ulmus alata)
  • Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)
  • Rock Elm (Ulmus thomasii)
  • American Elm (Ulmus americana)
  • Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra)
  • English Elm (Ulmus procera)
  • Red Elm (Ulmus rubra)
  • Dutch Elm (Ulmus × hollandica)

Anatomical Identification

The primary element for distinguishing elm types is found in the earlywood pores. For elms in North America, hard elms are characterized by smaller earlywood pores that are closer in size to the latewood pores. The earlywood is generally in a single, broken row.

Cedar Elm (endgrain 10x), a hard elm Red Elm (endgrain 10x), a soft elm

By contrast, soft elms tend to have larger earlywood pores. The earlywood may be one or two rows wide, as in American Elm (Ulmus americana), or two to four pores wide, as in Red Elm (U. rubra).

However, elm species from Europe and Asia do not always follow the same earlywood patterns as the North American species. Most notably, English Elm (U. procera) and Wych Elm (U. glabra) both have single, intermittent rows of smaller earlywood pores, but are considered soft elms.

Wych Elm (endgrain 10x), a soft elm with the anatomy of a North American hard elm

With the exception of the multiple earlywood rows found in Red Elm, individual species of both hard and soft elms cannot be further separated down to a species level.

This fungal disease is spread by elm bark beetles, and has been responsible for the demise of tens of millions of elm trees in North America and Europe. As a result, disease-resistant cultivars and hybrids have been sought out. Hybrid elm trees may have characteristics from either of the parent trees, confounding identification.


Elm is sometimes confused with ash (Fraxinus spp.), though the two can be separated based on elm’s wavy latewood bands.

White Ash (endgrain 10x), may exhibit mild ulmiform patterning, but it’s not as consistent through the entire latewood section as it is with elm

This zig-zag pattern, also called ulmiform, is even visible on flatsawn surfaces as minute jagged lines.

Red Elm, ulmiform patterning is evident even on the face grain of elm as thin zig-zags between growth rings

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is anatomically very similar to elm, though its wide sapwood and grey or yellowish color usually serve to differentiate it from elm.

Hackberry frequently has a somewhat “dirty” and mottled appearance

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Throughout history, man has chosen elm when he needed a tough and durable wood. Wheelwrights fashioned wheel hubs from nothing but the rugged elm, and then used it to floor long-lasting wagon beds. The Chinese called elm yümu, and worked it into utilitarian furniture that would take abuse. Fine furnituremakers called on elm, too, but in the form of burl veneer from a species growing in Europe’s Carpathian Mountains.

In early America, Iroquois Indians tempered fever with a medicine derived from the inner bark of the slippery elm. Years later, players in the new game of baseball chewed this same elm bark to produce a sticky saliva, which when rubbed into the pocket of their glove, made balls easier to catch.

Despite its many uses, elm’s primary fame has come from its graceful beauty and the shade it provides. From France to Middle America, elm once lined miles of city streets and country byways. Today, unfortunately, elm trees are being killed by a spreading fungus called Dutch elm disease. Efforts to control the disease haven’t been successful. Fortunately, the propagation of hybrid, disease-resistant trees shows promise.

Elm claims about 20 species in the temperate regions of the world. The most well known include the stately American elm (Ulmus Americana) and the slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) of the United States, and the English elm (Ulmus procera) in Europe and Great Britain.

In the forest, elm often grows 140′ tall. But open-grown elms rarely reach that height. Instead, they form a spreading, umbrella-like crown valued for shade.

The English and American elms have deeply fissured bark with crisscrossing ridges of an ash-gray color. The bark of slippery elm is the same color, but lacks pattern.

You can identify elm easily by its leaves. About 5″ long and 3″ wide, they have saw-toothed edges ending in a sharp point.

Elm heartwood ranges in tone from reddish brown to light tan, while the sapwood approaches off-white. The usually dramatic grain resembles ash. Moderately dense, elm weighs nearly 40 lbs. per cubic foot dry.

American and slippery elm will root practically everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains (except for the high Appalachians and the southern tip of Florida). You’ll find elm growing in river bottoms and on low, fertile hills mixed with other species of hardwoods.

Hard and tough, elm still bends easily when steamed, and when dry, holds its shape. Its twisted, interlocking grain makes elm difficult to work with anything but power tools. It also won’t split when screwed or nailed, but demands drilling pilot holes. And the wood sands easily to a natural low luster.

Burl veneers tend to be brittle and troublesome to flatten. Try those with flexible backing.

Besides the frequent use of its veneer for paneling, furnituremakers take advantage of elm’s ruggedness for hidden furniture parts. You’ll often find it in chair and sofa frames, backs, and legs. Yet elm’s beautiful wood grain also has fine furniture possibilities.

Elm works well, too, for butcher block tops and cutting boards because it has no odor or taste, and it won’t split. When in contact with water, elm resists decay, so many boatbuilders use it for planking.

Today, most elm lumber goes for manufacturing use and very little finds its way to retail outlets. Where you do find it–usually at small, local sawmills.

Illustration:Steve Schindler
Photographs: Hopkins Associates

Elm Firewood

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Is elm firewood any good to burn? Depending on who you ask, most people will agree that it’s just “Okay” to use but it’s generally not their top choice. The wood provides decent heat but it’s a pain to split.

There are around 30-40 different species of the elm tree belonging to the genus Ulmus. The trees first appeared about 20 million years ago in central Asia. Now the tree can be found throughout the northern hemisphere.

In Europe and North America elm trees were commonly used to line city streets for ornamental purposes.

The trees created a tunneling effect as you looked down the street, a unique characteristic that can be seen in photographs and paintings from the 18th to early 20th century.

In North America, the American elm was the predominate tree. Its strong wood, resistance to wind damage and rapid growth made it a popular choice. In Europe, the smooth-leaved elm and wych elm were commonly planted.

Wood from the elm tree is very strong and it’s valued for its interlocking grain. The wood was commonly used to build wagon wheels and chair seats.

Dutch Elm Disease

Elm trees throughout Europe and North America were devastated by Dutch elm disease or DED. DED is caused by a micro-fungus that is spread by the elm-bark beetle.

DED is responsible for killing millions of elm trees. Now, elm tress resistant to Dutch elm disease have been produced and the tree is slowly making a comeback.

Firewood Use

Due to Dutch elm disease, it’s not uncommon to find standing dead elm trees everywhere. These standing dead elm trees can produce decent firewood because the wood is nearly dry when you cut down the tree.

Don’t attempt to burn wet elm. The wet wood is miserable to burn and you should expect to let wet elm season for at least one year…maybe two. Also, make sure elevate the wood off the ground when you store it.

Elm Tree

Elm firewood is extremely hard to split. Anyone who has ever tried to split elm with a maul knows what I’m talking about. The wood is very stringy. After the maul cracks the wood apart, the stringy fibers hold the wood together. A sharp splitting axe will help cut the fibers, but a hydraulic wood splitter is really the best way to split elm.

I’ve burned a lot of elm in my outdoor wood furnace. The wood is heavy, produces decent heat and overall is not to bad to use. If you have access to a wood splitter, splitting elm is not that hard….just don’t attempt to split a crotch.

If you plan on splitting elm by hand good luck! It’s possible, especially if you work around the edges with a sharp splitting axe, but it takes a lot of effort. Do yourself a favor and use a wood splitter.

For all you morel mushroom lovers out there here’s a secret tip. After you cut down a standing dead elm tree, go back the following year and look in that spot for morel mushrooms. If you’re lucky you will find them growing everywhere. Don’t believe me? It works….in fact I find more morel mushrooms in these spots than anywhere else!

American Elm will produce 20.0 million BTU’s per cord.

Siberian Elm will produce 20.9 million BTU’s per cord.

Return from Elm Firewood to Firewood Types

Return from Elm Firewood to Firewood Home Page

Winged Elm

Also known as cork elm, the common and Latin species names refers to the distinctive broad, corky wings present on twigs. Its wood is moderately strong and used for crates, boxes and tool handles. Browse is good for deer.
Ulmus alata, Winged elm, also called corked elm or Wahoo elm, is a small- to medium-sized deciduous tree native to the southern and south-central woodlands of the United States. It grows from 40′ to 60′ tall and forms a vase-like shape, with lateral branches and a rounded, open crown. It is the least shade-tolerant of the North American elms. Its growth rate is often very slow, the trunk increasing in diameter by less than 0.2 inches annually. The tallest known stands at 131 feet in the Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
The Winged elm is a common street and shade tree but is occasionally considered a nuisance as it readily invades old fields, forest clearings, and rangelands, proving particularly difficult to eradicate with herbicides.
It can be most easily recognized and distinguished from other elms by the very broad, thin pair of corky wing-like growths that form along the branchlets after a couple of years. They are often irregular and may appear as warty growths or knots on one or both sides of the twigs.
The leaves are small and oval to narrowly elliptical, from 1″ to 3½” long. Leaf margins are doubly serrate. They are dark green with a smooth upper surface and paler, hairy undersides. They turn bright yellow in the fall.
The wind-pollinated flowers have a brownish to dull reddish tinge and are borne on long pedicels in March and April before the leaves appear. The fruit is a flat, hairy, reddish-orange samara, about 1/3” long, surrounded by a narrow wing. It usually disperses by the end of April.
The bark is a brownish-gray color, often with a greenish cast. It has tight vertical plates, curvy furrows, and flat ridges. The bark of a young tree often has amazing corky wings and warts. The bark of a mature tree is quite different, with flat plates separated by shallow fissures.
The wood is very flexible and springy but is also hard and resists splitting. It is categorized as a rock elm or hard elm and is used in flooring, boxes, crates, and furniture. The flexibility of the wood is particularly useful for rocking chairs or curved pieces. Winged elm is the wood of choice for high quality hockey sticks, due to its resistance to splitting. The fibrous inner bark is used to make baling twine.

Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm (Lab 4)

Category: Photo Fact Sheets Created: Monday, 23 August 2010 Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2012

Some images are cropped in thumbnail view. Click images to see uncropped versions at full resolution (up to 2000 x 3000 pixel).

  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Bark on a tree 5 inches in diameter at breast height.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Corky wings on a branch.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Corky wings on a branch.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Corky wings on a branch.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Leaf, alternate, simple, elliptically shaped, doubly serrate.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Leaf, alternate, simple, elliptically shaped, doubly serrate.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Leaf, alternate, simple, elliptically shaped, doubly serrate.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Twig, showing alternate leaf arrangement, corky wings.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Twig showing alternate leaf arrangement. Twigs often, but not always, have corky wings present.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Twig showing alternate leaf arrangement. Twigs often, but not always, have corky wings present.
  • Ulmaceae Ulmus alata – winged elm: Twig showing alternate leaf arrangement. Twigs often, but not always, have corky wings present.

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Winged Elm Tree Care: Tips For Growing Winged Elm Trees

The winged elm (Ulmus alata), a deciduous tree native to the southern woodlands of the United States, grows in both wet areas and dry, making it a very adaptable tree for cultivation. Also known as the corked elm or Wahoo elm, the tree is often used as a shade tree or street tree. Read on for information about growing winged elm trees.

Winged Elm Tree Information

The winged elm gets its name from the very broad, warty growths, thin and wing-like, that grow along its branches. The “wings” are irregular and sometimes look more like knots than wings.

The tree is a small one, usually growing to a height of 40 to 60 feet tall. Its branches form a vase shape with an open, rounded crown. The leaves of the winged elm are small and oval, a dark green color with paler, hairy undersides.

If you start growing winged elm trees,

you’ll find that they provide a fall display by turning a bright yellow at summer’s end. Flowers are brown or burgundy and appear before the leaves in March or April. They produce the fruit, a very short orange samara that disperses by the end of April.

Growing Winged Elm Trees

Winged elm tree information suggests that the trees are not difficult to grow and require little care in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. The winged elm is the least shade tolerant of the North American elms, but you can plant it either in sun or partial shade. It adapts to almost any type of soil and has a high drought tolerance.

In fact, winged elm tree care largely involves selecting an appropriate planting site and pruning the tree when it is young to form its structure. Winged elm tree care includes pruning, early and often, to eliminate multiple trunks and narrow-crotched branches. Your goal is to produce one central trunk with lateral branches spaced along the trunk.

Uses for Winged Elm Trees

There are many garden uses for winged elm trees. Because winged elm tree care is so minimal, the tree is often grown in parking lot islands, medium strips, and along residential streets. Growing winged elm trees in the city is very possible, as the trees tolerate air pollution, poor drainage and compacted soil.

The commercial uses for winged elm trees include using the wood for flooring, boxes, crates, and furniture. The wood is flexible and thus particularly useful for rocking chairs or furniture with curved pieces. Winged elm is also used for hockey sticks, due to its resistance to splitting.

Winged Elm



Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun

Sun to Partial Shade



Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us


over 40 ft. (12 m)


20-30 ft. (6-9 m)


USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us



Bloom Color:


Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Winter/Early Spring

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

Unknown – Tell us

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

From semi-hardwood cuttings

From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall

From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse

From seed; stratify if sowing indoors

Seed Collecting:

Allow seedheads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Huntington, Arkansas

Peel, Arkansas

Bartow, Florida

Lecanto, Florida

Ocala, Florida

Oldsmar, Florida

Ellerslie, Georgia

Lawrenceville, Georgia

Peachtree City, Georgia

Carbondale, Illinois

Lisle, Illinois

Benton, Kentucky

Coushatta, Louisiana

Batesville, Mississippi

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Rock Hill, South Carolina

Summerville, South Carolina

Dickson, Tennessee

Indian Mound, Tennessee

Woodlawn, Tennessee

Arlington, Texas

Lampasas, Texas

Lufkin, Texas

Magnolia, Texas

New Caney, Texas

Richmond, Texas

show all

  • LEAVES: deciduous, alternate, simple, short-petiolate, 1.5-3.5″ long by 1-1.5” wide; blades lanceolate to narrowly elliptic, tips acute, bases equilateral to sometimes slightly inequilateral; margins doubly serrate; upper surfaces dark green and smooth, lower surfaces paler and duller, softly short-pubescent on the principal veins
  • FLOWER: perfect (bisexual), tiny, lacking petals, reddish, in pendulous racemes, appearing in winter well before leaves emerge
  • FRUIT: samara noticeably stipitate, with wing surrounding the seed bearing portion; elliptic to narrowly ovate and about 0.2” long, the wing notched at the apex and wing margin ciliate; samaras mature when leaves are emerging or just before
  • TWIGS: slender, those of the season gray-brown to red-brown, glabrous, exhibiting a zigzag pattern; terminal buds absent, lateral buds ca. 0.13″ and pointed, reddish-brown; second-year and older twigs may possess two corky wings up to ca. 0.75” broad, the wings often becoming irregular with age as portions slough off; corky wings can be totally absent for a given tree, but are usually found on some trees at a given locality
  • BARK: brownish-gray, with irregular flat ridges
  • FORM: medium sized tree, to ca. 60-70’ tall and 1-2’ dbh; crown rounded when open-grown
  • HABITAT: widespread and common in various well-drained forest types, can be found on wetter sites that experience only short-term flooding
  • WETLAND DESIGNATION: Facultative Upland (FACU): Usually occurs in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast Plain Region
  • RANGE: southeastern US
  • USES: :of minor importance for timber, lumped with other elms, woody used for boxes, furniture, crates, flooring, hockey sticks (wood of this and American elm is resistant to splitting); ornamental; like other native elms, susceptible to Dutch elm disease
  • WILDLIFE: high-value whitetail deer browse; mast eaten by various birds
  • Best Recognition Features:

    1. leaves alternate, elm-like and relatively small and slender, margins doubly serrate
    2. twigs often corky-winged
    3. fruiting in late winter, samaras small and slender, tips notched, margins ciliate

    Ulmus alata, Winged Elm

    Home >

    Winged Elm will easily adapt to full sun or partial shade, growing quickly on any soil. It is an adaptable tree and is well-suited for planting in parking lot islands, along streets or as a yard shade tree. It must be pruned regularly beginning at an early age and continuing through about age 30 to eliminate double and multiple trunks. This is easier on some trees than on others. It is easier on those that form a natural central leader and a more-or-less pyramidal shape, others are more difficult to prune correctly because of the vase shaped with many leaders originating from one spot on the trunk. Select branches which form a wide angle with the trunk, eliminating those with narrow crotches. Strive to produce a central trunk with major lateral limbs spaced along the trunk.

    Trees occur naturally in north and central Florida south to Osceola County.

    The tree is found in it native habitat growing in wet sites as well as dry, rocky ridges making it a very adaptable tree for urban planting. Tree form ranges from pyramidal to rounded. Trees in the forest grow to 70 feet tall or more. Natural form varies widely from round to pyramidal.

    Existing trees are occasionally left near new homes and other buildings in new developments. Roots damaged by construction equipment can decay quickly. This can leave the plant with few supporting roots in the years following construction despite a green canopy. This and other trees treated similarly could fall over as a result. In addition, branches that are suddenly exposed to unlimited light when nearby trees are removed begin to grow rapidly. As a result, they could become too long and break. Keep them shortened with reduction cuts to help prevent breakage.

    The wood is considered ring porous which means that there is a large difference in size between the spring wood pores and the summer wood pores. All elms reportedly produce allergenic pollen. Plants serve as hosts for the question mark (Polygonia interrogationis) butterfly larvae.

    S & J Nursery’s Guide to Growing

    in the Northeast Florida Landscape

    Winged Elm Origins:

    – native to the south eastern United States

    Winged Elm Preferred Exposure:

    – full sun

    Winged Elm Foliage | Bark:

    – deciduous foliage of the Winged Elm tree is a deep green color

    turning yellow in the fall before falling off of the tree for the winter.

    – The Winged Elm is named for its quite noticeable cork like outgrowths of bark on younger limbs giving the branches a somewhat winged appearance.

    Winged Elm Soil Preference / Salt tolerance:

    – widely adaptable to a range of soil compositions and moisture levels

    Winged Elm Size Variance:

    – can reach sizes ranging from 20-40 feet H | 15-30 feet W depending on pruning done

    Winged Elm Growth Habit:

    – upright slightly spreading but still taller than it is wide

    Winged Elm Growth Rate:

    – fast growth rate

    Winged Elm Bloom:

    – inconspicuous blooms followed by small round papery seed pods

    Winged Elm Water Requirements:

    – drought tolerant once established

    Best Uses For Winged Elms:

    – Winged Elms can be used in the North Florida | Jacksonville | St. Augustine landscape where a moderately fast growing shade tree is needed. Winged Elms wide adaptability to a range of soil conditions makes it fit easily into most landscape situations including use as a street trees with a confined space for the roots to grow in.

    Care of Winged Elms:

    – water every day during the establishment period. See watering your newly planted trees for more information.

    – prune as needed for shaping or raising the canopy above sight lines or structural impediments

    – provide a 1 ft diameter circle of mulched area where grass is kept from growing for each inch of caliper (or diameter) of trunk measured 4 inches from the ground level.

    – fertilize each spring with a mixture of Milorganite and a slow release poly coated plant food such as Osmocote or Stay Green general purpose plant food, sprinkling the fertilizer around the mulch circle underneath the foliage of the tree

    trees for the North Florida | Jacksonville | St. Augustine area.


    Winged elm provides summer shade

    While the name “winged elm” might suggest an airy and graceful plant, this native species is neither, though it’s a fine shade tree. The winged elm (Ulmus alata) gets its name from flattened, corky growths that flare out along its branches. One of few Florida natives that have recently burgeoned in popularity, this deciduous tree grows rapidly in sun or light shade, forming an upright, vase-shaped crown. Up to 70 feet tall in Central Florida, winged elm flourishes on moist sites but adapts nicely to average landscape conditions.
    Compared to some of our deciduous shade trees, winged elm has a relatively long leafless period. This characteristic, however, should be considered an asset because the tree deflects sunshine in summer and allows the warming rays through during the cool season. Also in its favor is the winged elm’s small foliage, which doesn’t require raking. The tree’s flowers and fruit are inconspicuous. Propagate with fresh seeds.
    A fern in name only
    Foxtail fern is a popular landscape and container plant, but it isn’t a fern: This decorative plant (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’) is closely related to edible asparagus and, as such, is part of the lily family. The foxtail, which is a variety of the so-called asparagus fern, features rounded, tapering, plume-like foliage that can grow 2 feet tall and spread several feet wide. At its best in sun or light shade on mulched sites, foxtail looks lovely installed in odd-numbered groups and given sufficient space for its fluffy foliage to stand out. Single specimens in patio containers are also attractive. Unfortunately, even though the foxtail doesn’t bear as much fruit as the species, it still has invasive potential and is best avoided.
    A real firecracker
    An evergreen perennial that attracts admiring glances as well as butterflies and hummingbirds is firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis). Native to Mexico and Central America, this distinctive 3-foot-tall plant features slender, arching stems festooned with finely textured leaves and masses of scarlet or yellow tubular blossoms. Content in sun or light shade, firecracker plant has a clumping, sprawling growth habit and may eventually form a mass of foliage and flowers.
    Pest-free, drought-tolerant and adaptable, firecracker plant is suitable for butterfly gardens, shrubbery borders, foundation plantings, container specimens and massing under palms and other tropical foliage plants. Some gardeners advocate cutting plants to the ground every few years to rejuvenate them. A closely related species is Russelia sarmentosa (coral plant), which can grow 6 feet tall and requires the same growing conditions. Propagate both species with divisions and tip cuttings.
    Give it time
    Some gardening guides recommend checking plants for signs of pests every two weeks. If you’re a worrier, however, I suggest taking along a notebook and jotting down anything that seems suspicious, but deferring treatment for a while. The odds are the problems will clear up before your next inspection.
    — Charles Reynolds, a Winter Haven resident, has an associate’s degree in horticulture and is a member of Garden Writers Association of America.

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