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16 Different Types of Elm Trees & Their Identifying Features


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Elm trees are gorgeous deciduous trees with beautiful bright green leaves and elegant broad crowns that provide lovely shade for a summer picnic or a moment of contemplation.

Elm trees are all part of the Ulmaceae family, part of the Rosales order in the Angiosperm phylum of flowering plants. Based on fossil evidence, they evolved over 57 million years ago.

There are many different types of elm trees in the Ulmus genus. Experts cannot agree on the number of species, being somewhere between 20 – 40. The problem is partly due to high hybridization between numerous species and vegetatively propagated sterile microspecies among the Field Elm.

Elms are mostly north temperate with scattered populations in Central Asia and Central America and crossing slightly into the southern hemisphere in Indonesia.

Sometimes the close cousin (same family) Zelkova serrata is called the Japanese Elm, and it will also be discussed below.

Contents show

Elm Tree Identification (With Photos)

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Leaves

Elm trees are deciduous trees with simple leaves (singular, not compound). They turn various shades of yellow or sometimes orange or red, then fall off the tree in the autumn and regrow from buds the following spring.

Elm leaves are attached alternately along the stem with a single leaf per node on alternating sides (distichous).

The leaf shape may be oval (broad in the middle and tapering down at both ends, broadly elliptical), elliptical (like oval, but narrower), ovate (egg-shaped), obovate (egg-shaped but broader at the tip than the base), oblong (elongated with parallel sides), lanceolate (narrowly egg-shaped, with a length-to-width ratio of at least 3:1), oblanceolate (lanceolate but broader at the tip than the base), or intermediate between any two of these forms.

The shape of the leaf is an essential tool in identifying the different types of elm trees.

Leaf Shape - 6 Square - ovate obovate elliptic oval oblong lanceolate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Leaf Bases

Most elm leaves tend to have bases that are oblique or asymmetrical to various degrees. This is where one side of the base goes farther down the leaf stalk than the other, or one side is larger, rounder, or more angular than the other. Some bases are so asymmetric that one side of the base covers the entire leaf stalk.

Other bases are wedge-shaped (cuneate), rounded, or somewhat heart-shaped (cordate).

The different leaf bases can help to tell the different types of elms from each other.

Leaf Base - 4 Square - oblique cuneate rounded cordate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Leaf Apex (Tips)

Elms have variable tips (apexes, apices) to their leaves, which can be helpful in identifying the different types of elms.

Elm leaf tips may be acute (angled at less than 90°), long-pointed (acuminate, tapering to a fine point, usually finally meeting at less than 30°), obtuse (wide-angled, meeting at greater than 90°), cuspidate (mostly rounded but the tip forms an abrupt short point), or caudate (the tip tapers but has a long, drawn-out tail-like appendage).

Rarely elm leaf tips can even be divided to form three distinct lobes or tips.

Leaf Apex - 6 Square - acute acuminate obtuse cuspidate caudate lobed
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Leaf Margins

Leaf margins in elm trees can also be variable between species, making it another valuable tool for identifying the different types of elms.

Margins can be serrated (jagged-toothed, saw-like), but most elms are doubly serrated, where each tooth has its own tooth or teeth on it. Rarely margins are more rounded-toothed (crenate).

The presence or absence of ciliate margins, where there is a layer of fine hairs all along the margins, is another excellent tool in helping identify different elm trees.

Leaf Margins - 4 Square - serrate doubleserrate crenate ciliate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Leaf Surfaces

Finally, the leaf surfaces of different elm trees are highly variable. And within species, the upper and lower surfaces always differ from each other, giving a great range of identification tools.

Usually, the surfaces are hairy in one or more ways. There are a lot of different terms that botanists use to describe the hairs on plant surfaces.

In elms, they can be pubescent (short soft hairs), tomentose (wooly matted hairs), pilose (long straight soft hairs), villous (long shaggy hairs, not straight or matted), strigose (stiff, straight, and closely appressed to the surface, very coarse to the touch), or scabrous (not hairs but coarse small raised bumps or scales, rough like sandpaper).

In certain species of elms, there are tufts of longer hairs found in the leaf axils. Some elms also have glandular hairs (with a small gland at their tip).

The same terminology of hairs also applies to the winter buds, twigs, and samaras (fruits) of elm trees, which are also variously hairy or not.

Some elm leaves are more or less smooth and shiny on their surfaces. This lack of hair helps identify certain types of elms.

Other leaves can appear corrugated, like cardboard, a type of wrinkling along the vein lines caused by veins that are depressed into the leaf surface, also called textured, ridged, or rugose.

Some elms are also described by their veins, how many secondary veins they have on each side of the main vein, how many times those veins fork, and often by the presence or absence of various types of hairs along those veins or located in the vein axils.

Leaf Surfaces Hairs - 9 Square - hairs plus rugose
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Winter Buds

Leaf buds, or simply buds, are found at the ends of the branches. While in leaf, but especially during winter dormancy, these buds can be valuable identification tools.

In elms, buds are typically narrowly ovate and can be variously colored and hairy or not.

Their bud scales overlap on the bug, and these often have characteristic colored hairs that may be pubescent, tomentose, pilose, ciliate, etc. Sometimes they are completely hairless.

Bud Descriptions - 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Flower Arrangement (Inflorescences)

Most elm species bloom in the spring, often before the leaves grow back. A few species bloom in late summer or fall, and this is helpful in identifying those species.

For the most part, elm flowers are arranged in one of two main types of inflorescences (the arrangement of flowers on a plant).

Most are arranged in fascicles, which are small tight clusters of flowers all arising from the same point to roughly the same height. Fascicles may be densely or loosely packed with a characteristic number of flowers.

Some are arranged in racemes, which are inflorescences of usually shortly stalked flowers that are arranged on unbranched central stalks. Elm racemes are not like most racemes in the angiosperm phylum. They tend to be shorter and more compact but could be elongated and more easily recognizable as a raceme.

Elm racemes may or may not be pendulous, which can also help identify the different types of elms.

Inflorescence - 2 Square - fascicle raceme - Ulmus
Images by Ivar Leidus, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 (fascicle), and Stefan.lefnaer, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 (compact raceme), Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Flowers and Floral Sexuality

Elm flowers are all bisexual, also called hermaphroditic. This simply means they have both male and female organs in the same flowers.

Many sources online claim they are monoecious, having separate male and female flowers. The confusion may arise because several species are protogynous, meaning that the female pistil or gynoecium matures before the male stamens or androecium.

Sometimes only the stigmas or only the stamens are visible, making one think it is monoecious. This is an evolutionary tactic that helps prevent self-fertilization. Nonetheless, each flower contains both male and female parts that mature at either the same or at different times, depending on the species.

Only Zelkova serrata, the Japanese Elm, is monoecious, with tiny inconspicuous separate yellow-green male and female flowers born singly or in small groups in axils on the branches. Zelkova flowers are small and not often used to help aid in identification.

Ulmus species are apetalous, lacking petals of any kind, but they do have lobed calyxes (joined sepals that are partially divided). How deeply the calyx is lobed is sometimes a helpful tool in identifying elm trees.

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Stamens and Stigmas

The female parts are called a pistil or a gynoecium, consisting of an ovary plus style(s) and stigma(s). The ovary contains the unfertilized ovules that later become the seeds. In elms, you typically cannot see the ovary unless you dissect the flower.

Styles are just stalks that hold the stigmas above the ovary; in elms, these tend to be very short and inconspicuous.

Stigmas are the receptive surface that receives the pollen and directs it into the ovary. In elms, there tend to be two stigmas per flower, and these are the conspicuous parts that we can easily see and use to help identify different elms.

Elms all have a characteristic color and shape to their stigmas. Some are shallow to deeply lobed, many are exserted (stick out beyond the calyx), and many are pubescent or otherwise hairy.

The male parts are generally referred to as stamens (the androecium). A stamen is composed of a filament (stalk) plus an anther. The anther is the reproductive structure that produces and releases pollen.

Most elm trees have 3 – 9 stamens per flower. Sometimes the number of stamens can be seen well enough to count, mostly in few-flowered fascicles or racemes. But, when this is not the case, you can often simply use the color of the anthers to help identify the different types of elm. Elm trees can have reddish, brown, purple, or yellowish anthers.

Stamens and Stigmas - 2 Square - Ulmus
Images by Hermann Schachner, Own work, CC0 (stigmas), and Hermann Schachner, Own work, CC0 (stamens), Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Their Fruits

Elms from the Ulmus genus all produce samaras, which are winged fruits. These are similar to the helicopter-like samaras of maple trees, but instead of two wings with two joined seeds, they are variously rounded to elliptic in shape with a single central seed surrounded by a winged membrane.

Characteristics of their size, shape, color, hairs, and whether or not the tip is notched, the margins are ciliate, and if there are persistent floral parts, all help to identify the different types of elm trees. The same terminology used to describe various leaf shapes above is also used to describe the shape of samaras.

Zelkova species produce drupes instead of samaras. A drupe is a fleshy berry-like fruit with thin skin, but its seeds are contained within a stony central pit. A cherry is an example of a common drupe we eat. In the case of Zelkova, however, they are hard and dry rather than fleshy, and they are very small.

Fruits - 3 Square - samaras drupes
Images by Hermann Schachner, Own work, CC0 (ciliate samara), Stavast22, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 (colored samara), and Lyrae Willis, Own Work (drupe) – Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Tree Habit

Tree habit is the overall shape or form that a tree has when viewed from a distance. The shape of a tree is helpful in identifying the different types of elms since they tend to develop crown shapes that are characteristic of their species unless pruned and shaped.

Elm tree habit, like most trees, almost always varies with age. When young, most trees generally begin with conical to narrowly pyramidal crowns, but in elms, they typically broaden significantly with age.

Most mature elms have various open and spreading crowns. Spreading crowns are made of a mix of ascending, descending, and somewhat horizontal branches, but they all spread away from each other, hence spreading. They may spread broadly, irregularly, be more rounded, or weeping with pendulous branches.

Some crowns are described as oval, which can be hard to distinguish from rounded ones sometimes unless you look at extreme examples. As a result, rounded and oval are sometimes used interchangeably. Generally speaking, an oval crown is simply a narrowly rounded one.

Other crowns can be broad to somewhat narrowly columnar (in cultivars) or remain somewhat conical or pyramidal when mature.

Some crowns have a single main trunk, while others develop multiple forked trunks, and these ones often end up spreading widely.

Tree Form - 6 Square - conical pyramidal rounded spreadingmutlipletrunks broadcolumnar weeping
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Often, certain elms are described as vase-shaped, though this is not an official term used. It is a spreading crown with a uniform V-shape. They are made of strongly ascending-spreading branches and generally lack descending branches like other spreading crowns. It could also be considered a reverse pyramidal crown, where it is widest at the top and narrowest at the base. This form is common in certain elm species, especially in their cultivars.

Sometimes elms are also described as umbrella-like. These are more typical spreading crowns that just happen to take on distinct umbrella-like forms.

Tree Form - 2 Square - umbrella vase
Images via Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Branch Growth

How branches grow and spread from the trunk can be another valuable tool in identifying the different types of elm trees.

Elm tree branches often spread away from the trunk in all directions, with the top ones ascending, ones in the middle may be nearly horizontal, and lower ones may descend. This overall pattern is simply called spreading because the branches all spread away from each other.

Sometimes the branches are more or less all ascending, sometimes they are intermediate as in ascending-spreading, or other times there can be pendulous branches that droop downwards. Pendulous is different from descending because they droop more suddenly, nearly or entirely vertically down, instead of arching more gracefully downwards.

Elms have another feature not often seen in other families, wings on their branches. Certain species of elm trees have corky ridges on their branches, described as wings. Some species always have them on at least some of their branches, some only occasionally have them, and others never have them at all. This can also be helpful in identifying the different types of elm trees.

Branch Morphology - 6 Square - ascending descending spreading horizontal pendulous winged
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Elm Trees by Bark

Sometimes, you can also use bark features to help identify the different types of elm trees.

Almost all bark starts out smooth when it is young, but as it ages, it develops its own characteristic patterns.

In elms, most bark develops shallow or deep vertical grooves in its gray, brown, or reddish bark. Some of these trees with grooved bark develop rectangular plates created by horizontal and vertical grooves. Other bark has ridges that interlace and cross over each other, creating v-shaped or diamond-like grooves in their bark.

Some bark develops horizontal lenticels, like cherry bark, helping quickly identify the species. But as it ages, it too develops grooves more characteristic of the genus.

Other elms develop a unique exfoliating pattern, revealing mottled layers of different colors created by varying depths of inner bark. This is another easy way to identify certain species.

Bark Morphology - 6 Square - grooved deeplygrooved smooth exfoliating plated horizontallenticels
Image by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

How to Tell an Elm From Other Trees With Deciduous Leaves

Some key characteristics can help you quickly determine you probably are looking at an elm and not some other deciduous tree.

  • A large, usually densely spreading canopy with spreading branches
  • Simple, usually unlobed leaves that tend to be variously oval or ovate, with serrated or often doubly serrated margins, a usually pointed tip, a usually oblique base, and conspicuous veins.
  • Alternating leaf attachment – all elm leaves alternate on the branches with a single leaf per node on alternating sides rather than in opposite pairs like some other trees with similar-looking leaves
  • Flowers are bisexual, small, and usually grow in fascicles (small and monoecious in Zelkova)
  • Fruits are single-seeded, usually round to oval samaras that may be notched at the tip and have ciliate margins (small drupes in Zelkova)

Now, let’s look at some individual species of elm trees!

16 Different Types of Elm Trees & Their Identifying Features

1. American Elm (Ulmus americana)

American Elm
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

The American Elm is a tall tree with an elegant spreading crown that used to be widely grown in street plantings and landscapes for its beauty and abundant shade.

Sadly, this lovely tree has been devastated by Dutch Elm Disease, and the original species is no longer being planted. In its native habitat, its population is decreasing and Endangered.

New disease-resistant cultivars from hybrid crosses and the cloning of resistant trees have now become widely available, making these a perfect choice for the home gardener.

American Elms are sun-loving trees that are tolerant of a wide range of soil types, provided they are moist and well-drained.

Identifying Features of the American Elm

The American Elm is a tall tree with a spreading crown that is often vase-shaped, with light brown to gray bark that is deeply grooved or plated. Branches are spreading to pendulous and not winged.

Buds are brown and hairless with an acute tip and reddish-brown pubescent scales.

Leaves are oval to oblong-obovate, 2 ¾ – 5 ½”, with oblique bases, doubly serrated margins, and acute to long-pointed tips on 0.2” hairless to pubescent leaf stalks.

Lower leaf surfaces are sometimes slightly pubescent with hair tufts in vein axils, while upper surfaces are scabrous.

Protogynous flowers are in fascicles under 1” long on ½” stalks with white-ciliate deeply divided stigmas and 7(5) – 9 stamens with red anthers.

Samaras are yellow-cream, sometimes reddish-purple-tinged, ovate, less than ½”, with narrow wings with yellow to white ciliate margins, and tips are sometimes notched.

Often Confused With: American Elm is mostly confused with Slippery Elm, which has leaves that are tomentose on their lower surfaces, red-pink stigmas, and samaras that are rusty-tomentose over the seed only.

Other Common Names: White Elm, Water Elm, Soft Elm, Common Elm, also Florida Elm (considered by some a formal botanical variant, but plant authorities consider it a synonym)

Native Area: Saskatchewan east to Nova Scotia in Canada and throughout the eastern USA from eastern Montana south to Texas and all the states east of that

USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 90 ft (to 130 ft) tall, 40 – 70 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available From Left to Right:

  1. Princeton American Elm Tree Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’ is a medium to somewhat large tree with an open rounded to umbrella-like crown and light to medium green corrugated leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  2. Prairie Expedition® Elm Tree Ulmus americana ‘Lewis & Clark’ is a medium-sized tree with a broad umbrella-shaped crown and serrated leaves that are only slightly corrugated and have long-pointed tips – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  3. Valley Forge American Elm Ulmus americana ‘Valley Forge’ is a tall tree with a vase-shaped crown and corrugated dark green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
American Elm Cultivars Group 1
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Jefferson American Elm Ulmus americana ‘Jefferson’ is a medium-sized tree with a vase-shaped crown and dark green corrugated leaves; cloned from a disease-resistant type species tree at Washington Mall – Image via Nature Hills
  2. New Harmony Elm Ulmus americana ‘New Harmony’ is a taller elm with broadly elliptic (oval) textured glossy medium green leaves that are double serrated – Image via Nature Hills
  3. St. Croix™ American Elm Ulmus americana ‘St Croix’ is a somewhat tall elm with a broad open vase-shaped crown and classic American Elm leaves, cloned from a disease-resistant type species tree in Minnesota – Image via Nature Hills
American Elm Cultivars Group 2
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

2. Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)

Cedar Elm - Ulmus Crassifolia
Image by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Cedar Elm is one of the two fall-blooming North American elms. It is a relatively tall tree with a usually rounded crown and many small leaves providing ample shade.

It is a hardy tree that tolerates poor soils and conditions, including wet soils and drought, better than most other elms. It can also be grown in either full sun or partial shade and is less susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease than the American Elm.

Its name comes from its common association with Juniperus ashei in Texas, which is locally known as Mountain Cedar.

Identifying Features of Cedar Elm

Cedar Elms are relatively tall trees with a rounded to somewhat pyramidal crowns, shallowly grooved light brown bark with large plates, and mainly spreading to sometimes ascending branches that often have corky wings.

Buds are pubescent brown with acute tips and shiny hairless dark brown scales.

Leaves are small, 1 – 2”, ovate to elliptic, with an oblique, rounded, or cuneate base, an obtuse tip, and crenate to doubly serrate margins, on a very short pubescent leaf stalk.

Lower leaf surfaces are soft-pubescent, while upper surfaces are harsh-pubescent.

Flowers are fall-blooming in 2 – 5-flowered fascicles. They’re 0.2” long, with hairy calyxes lobed more than ½ their length, on ⅓” stalks, and have exerted white pubescent stigmas and 5 – 6 stamens with reddish-purple anthers.

Samaras are green to tan, elliptic to oval, about ⅓”, and pubescent with short-ciliate margins.

Often Confused With: Cedar Elm is sometimes mistaken for Winged Elm, but that one has much narrower leaves on much longer 1” leaf stalks, and its samaras are also narrower. September Elm is the other fall-blooming North American Elm, but that one’s flowers are in loose 2” long racemes, and its leaves are twice as long.

Other Common Names: Scrub Elm, Lime Elm, Texas Elm, Basket Elm, Red Elm, Southern Rock Elm, Fall-Blooming Elm

Native Area: Extreme southwestern Tennessee south to Louisiana, west to Oklahoma, Texas, south to northeastern Mexico in Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 90 ft tall, 40 – 60 ft spread

3. Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

Slippery Elm Ulmus_rubra_quebec
Image by Cephas, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Slippery Elm is a fairly large tree with an elegant open spreading crown, but unfortunately, this beautiful tree is just as susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease as the American Elm and is not recommended for planting.

Even though it is a beautiful tree, it is less popular than the American Elm, and no significant efforts have been made to create disease-resistant cultivars.

The name comes from the mucilaginous inner bark, which is a popular herbal remedy for helping with a wide variety of digestive complaints as well as coughs and skin conditions.

Identifying Features of Slippery Elm

Slippery Elms are medium to large-sized trees with open spreading crowns, spreading branches, and deeply, irregularly grooved brown to red bark.

Buds are obtuse with red scales that have red-tomentose margins.

Leaves are obovate to ovate, 3.15 – 6.3”, with oblique bases, long-pointed tips, and margins that are doubly serrated on the upper half and singly serrated below, on 0.2 – 0.3” long pubescent leaf stalks.

Lower leaf surfaces are tomentose with dense white hairy tufts in vein axils. Upper surfaces are harshly scabrous with strigose hairs and have ciliate margins.

Flowers are in dense 8 – 20-flowered fascicles less than 1” and are non-pendulous, almost stalkless, with a green to red shallowly lobed reddish pubescent calyx. Stigmas are pink-red, exserted, and there are 5 – 9 stamens with reddish anthers.

Samaras are yellow to cream, rounded, 0.5 – 0.7”, rusty-tomentose over the seed, with hairless wings and margins.

Often Confused With: Slippery Elm’s various reddish hairs and other reddish coloring make it hard to mistake for other elms. Occasionally people mistake it for American Elm, which has doubly serrate leaves all around that may only be pubescent on the lower surface, white stigmas, and samaras with ciliate margins.

Other Common Names: Red Elm, Gray Elm, Soft Elm, Moose Elm, Indian Elm

Native Area: Eastern USA from North Dakota south to Texas and throughout the eastern states, plus southern Ontario, Canada

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 70 ft (to 100 ft) tall, 30 – 50 ft tall

4. September Elm (Ulmus serotina)

September Elm SHHG_Serotina_foliage
Image by Ptelea, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The September Elm is one of two fall-blooming North American elms with a broad spreading elegant crown.

Like many other North American elms, this one is also highly susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease and is not recommended for planting.

It is a rare elm outside of Tennessee and was seldom used in landscaping, so no efforts are underway to create disease-resistant cultivars.

Despite its susceptibility and its rareness, its population is stable and considered Least Concern.

Identifying Features of September Elm

September Elms are medium-tall trees with broadly rounded, spreading crowns, spreading to pendulous branches, often with irregular corky wings and light brown to reddish shallowly grooved bark.

Buds are brown and hairless, with an acute tip and hairless dark brown scales.

Leaves are oblong-obovate, 2 ¾ – 4”, with an oblique base, long-pointed tip, and doubly serrate margins, on ¼” leaf stalks.

Lower leaf surfaces are yellow-gold soft-pubescent with no tufts in vein axils. The upper surfaces are yellow-green and hairless.

Fall-blooming protogynous flowers are in 8 – 12-flowered, loose 2” long racemes. The calyx is lobed almost to its base. Stigmas are white and pubescent, and there are 5 – 6 stamens with yellow-red anthers.

Samaras are light brown, ovoid to elliptic, 0.5 – 0.6” long, narrowly winged, pubescent, with densely ciliate margins and a deeply notched tip.

It hybridizes in Arkansas and Oklahoma with Cedar Elm, challenging identification there.

Often Confused With: September Elm is occasionally mistaken for Cedar Elm, but that one has only 1 – 2” long leaves that are harsh-pubescent on the upper surface, and its fall-blooming flowers are in short 0.2” long fascicles rather than 2” racemes.

Other Common Names: Red Elm

Native Area: Tennessee mainly, with disjunct populations in Illinois, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Nuevo León, Mexico

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 70 ft tall, 30 – 60 ft spread

5. Rock Elm (Ulmus thomasii)

 Rock Elm UlmusThomasii
Image by Douglas Goldman, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Rock Elm is another tall North American Elm with an unfortunately high susceptibility to Dutch Elm Disease, making it unsuitable for planting.

It was only seldom cultivated in the past, and no known cultivars exist, nor are there any current efforts underway to create disease-resistant strains.

Despite its susceptibility, its population appears to be stable and is listed as Least Concern.

Identifying Features of the Rock Elm

Rock Elm is a tall tree with a somewhat rounded to broadly columnar crown with gray, deeply grooved bark with broad ridges and spreading to somewhat descending branches, often with 3 – 5 prominent irregular corky wings.

Buds are pubescent brown with acute tips and brown pilose scales with ciliate margins.

Leaves are obovate to oblong-oval, 1 – 6.3” long, with oblique bases, short-pointed tips, and doubly serrate margins on 0.2” leaf stalks.

Lower leaf surfaces are white-pubescent without tufts in vein axils, while upper surfaces are dark green, usually hairless or sometimes scabrous.

Flowers are in 10(7-13)-flowered pendulous 2” racemes on 0.2 – 0.4” stalks. Calyxes are lobed to half their length, stigmas are greenish and pubescent, and there are 5 – 8 stamens with dark purple anthers.

Samaras are elliptic to oval, 0.6 – 0.86”, narrowly winged, pubescent, with short-ciliate margins and shallowly notched tips.

Often Confused With: Rock Elm is mostly mistaken for the American Elm, which has similar leaves and buds, but that one never has corky wings on its branches, and its flowers are in fascicles with white stigmas and reddish anthers.

Other Common Names: Cork Elm

Native Area: Mostly the midwestern USA, also from southeastern Canada (Ontario, Quebec), south to Tennessee, west to northeastern Kansas, north to Minnesota

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 90 – 100 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread

6. Winged Elm (Ulmus alata)

Winged Elm Rosales Ulmaceae Ulmus alata - branch leaves
Image by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Winged Elms are an interesting-looking medium-sized North American elm with corky wings on each side of their branches, giving them their common name.

Sadly, like most North American elm trees, this one is also highly susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease and is not recommended for planting.

It is only rarely cultivated outside its native range, and it appears no cultivars are being created that are disease-resistant.

Identifying Features of the Winged Elm

Winged Elms are usually medium-sized trees with open crowns, light brown to gray shallowly grooved and plated bark, and branches with opposite, prominent, corky wings.

Buds have an acute tip and brown to rusty, slightly pubescent scales.

Leaves are lanceolate to oblanceolate, 1.2 – 2.7”, with a somewhat heart-shaped to oblique base, acute tip, and doubly serrate margins on a 1” leaf stalk.

The lower leaf surfaces have hairs along the veins and tufts of hairs in the vein axils. The upper surface is hairless to scabrous.

Flowers are in less than 1” non-pendulous racemes on 0.08 – 0.3” stalks. The calyx is deeply divided into five lobes, with fuzzy stigmas, and five stamens with red anthers.

Samaras are gray-tan and often reddish-tinged, pubescent, lanceolate to oblong-elliptic, less than ⅓” long, narrowly winged, and have white-ciliate margins.

Often Confused With: The opposite corky wings of Winged Elms makes it one of the easier elms to identify. It is sometimes confused with Cedar Elm, but that one has much broader leaves on very short leaf stalks, and its samaras are also broader.

Other Common Names: Cork Elm, Small Leaf Elm, Wahoo, Witch Elm

Native Area: Endemic to southeastern USA from Oklahoma south to Texas east through Missouri to Virginia and all states south of that

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 70 ft (to 90 ft) tall, 40 – 50 ft spread

7. Wych Elm Tree (Ulmus glabra)

Wych Elm Ulmus_glabra._Arboretum._Horki,_Belarus
Image by Pavel Niakhayeu, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wych Elms are tall for a Eurasian elm with a spreading crown often made of multiple trunks, providing abundant summer shade.

It is susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease but is not a favored host by the elm bark beetles that spread the disease thanks to biochemicals found in its bark that repel the pest, so it does much better than other susceptible elms.

It is introduced in North America but isn’t considered invasive there.

It is moderately tolerant of shade, but it needs deep rich soils to thrive.

Identifying Features of Wych Elm

Wych Elms are tall trees with spreading, broadly rounded to pyramidal crowns, often with multiple trunks, spreading to pendulous branches without wings, and grooved gray bark.

Buds are obtuse with reddish-brown hairless to somewhat white-ciliate scales.

Leaves are elliptic to obovate, 1.6 – 6.3” long, with a strongly oblique base with one side covering the 0.08 – 0.3” densely villous petiole. Margins are doubly serrated and tips long-pointed to cuspidate or sometimes three-lobed.

Villous lower leaf surfaces have woolly tufts in vein axils, and dark green upper surfaces are strigose to scabrous.

Flowers are in 8 – 20-flowered non-pendulous fascicles under 1” with calyxes lobed half their length, white-pubescent reddish stigmas, and 5 – 6 purplish stamens.

Samaras are light greenish-brown, elliptic to obovate, to 0.8”, with pubescent central veins and a notched tip obscured by persistent, curved styles.

Often Confused With: Wych Elm is sometimes confused with European White Elm, which has asymmetrical obovate leaves with oblique bases that are rounded on one side and angled on the other with densely gray pubescent lower leaf surfaces.

Other Common Names: Scotch Elm, Scots Elm, Table-top Scotch Elm

Native Area: Eurasia from Ireland and Scotland east through Europe and Asia to Siberia

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 100 ft tall, 40 – 60 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

Wych Elm Cultivar
Camperdown Weeping Elm Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’ is a smaller tree with a weeping crown, an attractive branching pattern, and textured bright green leaves – Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

8. Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila)

Siberian Elm
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Siberian Elm is a medium-sized Asian elm that has been widely cultivated around the world in gardens, street plantings, and landscapes for its fast growth and tolerance of poor conditions despite it being short-lived and having brittle wood prone to breakage.

Its disease resistance is highly variable within the species, with some being quite resistant and others being highly susceptible.

It’s considered extremely invasive and is introduced to most of North America from central Mexico north throughout most of the USA and southern Canada.

Identifying Features of the Siberian Elm

Siberian Elms are medium to tall trees with open rounded to spreading crowns, spreading branches that are not winged, and gray to brown, deeply v-grooved bark.

Buds are dark brown, ovate, and hairless with light brown, shiny, hairless to slightly pubescent scales.

Leaves are narrowly elliptic to lanceolate, 0.8 – 2.6”, on short hairless stalks, with singly to doubly serrated margins, acute tips, and bases that are rarely oblique.

Lower leaf surfaces are somewhat pubescent in vein axils, the upper surface is hairless and secondary veins are forked.

Flowers are in tightly clustered 6 – 15-flowered, 0.2” non-pendulous fascicles. Hairless calyxes are shallowly lobed, exserted stigmas are green, and the 4 – 8 stamens have brownish-red anthers.

Samaras are yellow-cream, rounded, about ½”, broadly winged, hairless, with a tip that is notched ⅓ – ½ its length.

Often Confused With: Siberian Elm is sometimes confused with Chinese Elm, which has unique exfoliating bark when mature, or with American Elm, which has more obviously doubly serrated leaves with oblique bases and samaras with ciliate margins.

Other Common Names: Asiatic Elm, Chinese Elm, Littleleaf Elm, Dwarf Elm

Native Area: Northern China, Siberia, Mongolia, India, Tibet, Korea

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 70 ft tall, 35 – 50 ft spread

9. David Elm (Ulmus davidiana)

David Elm SHHG_Ulmus_davidiana
Image by Ptelea, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

David Elm is a medium-sized Asian tree that is unsuitable for cultivation in most areas because it either tends to grow too quickly and the crown cannot be supported by the trunk, or it just does not grow well at all.

However, it has shown excellent resistance to Dutch Elm Disease.

Several cultivars have been developed that grow well and show promise as disease-resistant landscape trees.

It’s mostly popular for its use in hybrid crosses in an effort to fight Dutch Elm Disease.

Identifying Features of the David Elm

David Elm is a medium-sized tree with a broadly spreading crown, spreading branches, and grooved bark. Twigs sometimes have a longitudinally grooved corky layer.

Buds are ovate with somewhat pubescent scales.

Leaves are obovate to obovate-elliptic, 1.6 – 4”, on a 0.2 – 0.7” pubescent leaf stalk. Margins are doubly serrated, bases are oblique, tips are long-pointed to caudate-acuminate, and there are 12 – 22 secondary veins on each side of the midvein.

The lower leaf surface is densely pubescent when young but only has tufts in vein axils when mature.

Flowers are in fascicled cymes with four-lobed calyxes.

Samaras are tan, more or less obovate, 0.4 – 0.75” long, on a short pubescent stalk with usually hairless wings, and the central seed is closer to the tip.

Often Confused With: David Elm is sometimes mistaken for Siberian Elm, but that one rarely has oblique leaf bases, and their leaf stalks are shorter and hairless instead of pubescent.

Other Common Names: Father David Elm

Native Area: China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Siberia

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 50 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available From Left to Right:

  1. Choice City Elm Ulmus davidiana ‘Choice City’ is a medium-sized tree with a dense vase-shaped crown and textured glossy dark green leaves and bark that develops horizontal grooves that resemble cherry tree bark – Image via Nature Hills
  2. Emerald Sunshine® Elm Tree Ulmus davidiana var. Japonica (U. propinqua) ‘JFS-Bieberich’ is a medium-sized tree with a pyramidal crown and ascending branches, and its leaves are a corrugated bronze when they emerge, becoming glossy green, then turning yellow and red in the fall – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  3. New Horizon Elm, often listed as Ulmus ‘New Horizon’ is a hybrid of clones from Ulmus davidiana var japonica clone and Ulmus pumila, creating a medium-sized tree with 4” double-serrated elliptic leaves in a darker green than many other Elms – Image via Nature Hills
David Elm Cultivars Group 1
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Patriot Elm Ulmus x ‘Patriot’ is a complex hybrid between Ulmus ‘Urban’ (U. pumila x U. × hollandica x U. minor) and Ulumus davidiana var japonica ‘Prospector’ that is a medium-sized tree with a vase-shaped crown and glossy medium-green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
  2. Triumph Elm Tree Ulmus ‘Morton Glossy’ is a hybrid between Ulmus davidiana var japonica ‘Morton’ and Vanguard™ Elm. It’s a medium-sized tree with a vase-shaped crown and glossy dark-green textured leaves – Image via Nature Hills
  3. Accolade Elm Ulmus davidiana var japonica ‘Morton’ is a medium-sized tree with a vase-shaped crown, ascending branches, and glossy, textured dark green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
David Elm Cultivars Group 2
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

10. Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

Chinese Elm
Images via Fast-Growing-Trees and Lyrae Willis, Own Work – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Chinese Elm is an interesting elm tree for its unique exfoliating bark displaying mottled shades of gray and brown. My son calls it the ‘puzzle tree’ because the bark often exfoliates in puzzle piece-shaped scales.

It is popular as a landscape tree for its fast growth, cold-hardiness, pest and disease resistance, and tolerance of poor soils and poor conditions, including urban street plantings, making it one of the most widely cultivated elms worldwide. It is also very popular among bonsai tree enthusiasts.

However, it also escapes cultivation and has been introduced sporadically in the USA and Canada and is considered invasive in several US states.

Identifying Features of the Chinese Elm

Chinese Elm is a medium-sized tree with a broadly rounded crown and distinctive grayish-brown bark that exfoliates into irregular scaly flakes.

Buds are hairless, reddish-brown, and broadly ovate to rounded.

Leaves are lanceolate-ovate to narrowly elliptic, 1 – 2” long, thick, short-stalked, and asymmetrical in length and width on each side of the midvein with oblique bases, acute to obtuse tips, and irregularly serrated margins.

Lower leaf surfaces are pea green and pubescent when young and dark green on the upper surface with pubescence only along the depressed midvein.

Flowers are in 3 – 6-flowered fascicled cymes on very short pubescent stalks.

Samaras are tan to brown, sometimes dark red-brown, elliptic to ovate-elliptic, about ½”, with a somewhat persistent calyx, and the central seed is sometimes closer to the tip.

Often Confused With: Chinese Elm has distinctive irregularly exfoliating grayish-brown bark that will quickly distinguish it from all other elms. It is sometimes confused with Siberian Elm when young, but that one has more symmetrical leaves with bases that are rarely oblique and secondary veins that fork three times per side, plus samaras that are deeply notched at the tip.

Other Common Names: Lacebark Elm, Drake Elm

Native Area: China, Japan, Korea, India, Vietnam

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 50 ft (to 80 ft) tall, 35 – 45 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available From Left to Right:

  1. Drake Chinese Elm Tree Ulmus parvifolia ‘Drake’ has a somewhat more weeping habit than the Chinese Elm, with bark that exfoliates at an earlier age and leaves that stay on the tree longer – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  2. DannaSpire Columnar Elm Tree Ulmus Parviflora ‘DavesStraightUp’ is a columnar tree with ascending branches with small shiny green leaves – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  3. Allée® Elm Ulmus parvifolia ‘Emer II’ is a taller tree with ascending branches, small glossy dark green leaves, and mottled exfoliating bark – Image via Nature Hills
  4. Bosque Elm Ulmus parvifolia UPMTF’ is a somewhat tall tree with a uniform oval crown with symmetrical ascending but slightly drooping branches and exfoliating bark – Image via Nature Hills
Chinese Elm Cultivars
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

11. Cherry Bark Elm (Ulmus villosa or Ulmus wallichiana)

Cherry Bark Elm Ulmus_villosa_(kew)
Image by Ronnie Nijboer, CC0

Cherry Bark Elm is an interesting tree with an elegantly rounded crown and unique bark for an elm that looks much like cherry bark, as its name suggests.

It has low susceptibility to Dutch Elm Disease and the elm leaf beetles but is rarely cultivated.

It is a very long-lived elm tree, with some trees estimated to be 800 years old.

Unfortunately, its native population is decreasing due to its popularity as cattle fodder, and it is listed as Vulnerable.

Identifying Features of the Cherry Bark Elm

Most less authoritative sources call Cherry Bark Elm Ulmus villosa. However, plant authorities say it’s a synonym for Ulmus wallichiana. Interestingly, however, the two vary considerably, including in flower morphology, so my description below is for a less variable Ulmus villosa.

It’s a medium to large tree with more or less pendulous, minutely pubescent branches and smooth bark with thin horizontal lenticels resembling cherry bark.

Leaves are ovate-oblong to elliptic, up to 4” long, with acute to long-pointed tips, oblique bases, and doubly serrated margins.

Upper leaf surfaces are smooth, mostly hairless, and lower surfaces are slightly pubescent with scattered glandular reddish hairs, sometimes with white villous tufts in vein axils.

Flowers are in dense stalk-less fascicles with toothed calyx lobes that are ciliate with club-shaped red glandular hairs. There are 3 – 4 long stamens, and the ovary and style are densely villous.

Elliptical samaras are densely villous-ciliate.

Often Confused With: Cherry Bark Elm can easily be identified by its smooth bark with thin horizontal lenticels that resembles cherry bark. It differs from the Himalayan Elm (Ulmus wallichiana), which has grayish-brown grooved bark like most elms and hairless rounded samaras.

Other Common Names: Marn Elm

Native Area: Endemic to the valleys of Kashmir in the Himalayas at 3900 – 8200 ft

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 ft spread, 30 – 60 ft spread

12. European White Elm (Ulmus laevis)

European White Elm Ulmus_laevis_(Flatter-Ulme)
Image by Hermann Schachner, Own work, CC0

The European White Elm is a tall tree with a broad crown providing ample shade.

It is a riparian tree able to withstand prolonged waterlogged soils, though it will not tolerate saline conditions, it has no drought resistance, and it cannot withstand strong winds without being damaged.

While susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease, it is rarely infected in western Europe, and when it does, it has a good chance of surviving it.

It is gaining popularity in Europe for butterfly gardens because it hosts the White-letter Hairstreak Satyrium w-album butterfly.

Identifying Features of the European White Elm

The European White Elm is a tall tree with a broad, open oval to rounded crown, thick trunk to 6 ft wide, spreading branches, and brownish-gray bark.

Leaves are asymmetrically obovate, 2 ½ – 5”, twice as long as wide, with an oblique base rounded on one side and angled on the other, a short to long-pointed tip, and doubly serrated margins.

Lower leaf surfaces are bright green, densely gray pubescent, and upper surfaces are hairless to slightly scabrous above on a ⅛ – ¼” leaf stalk.

Flowers are in very long-stalked loose racemes with lobed calyxes, white pubescent stigmas, and 4 – 5(8 – 10) stamens with purple anthers.

Samaras are oval, about ½” long, with pale ciliate margins, and have two incurved persistent styles at the tip. They are in crowded clusters on pendulous stalks.

It will grow well in either full sun or partial shade.

Often Confused With: European White Elm is often confused with Wych Elm, but that one has leaves that are densely villous on the lower surface and a strongly oblique leaf base whose one lobe covers its 0.08 – 0.3” long densely villous petiole.

Other Common Names: Russian Elm, Fluttering Elm, Spreading Elm, Stately Elm

Native Area: Europe from France northeast to Finland, east to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, southeast to Bulgaria, Crimea with disjunct populations in Spain, the Caucasus

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 80 – 100 ft tall, 80 – 100 ft spread

13. Field Elm (Ulmus minor)

Field Elm Ulmus_minor
Image by Tom elm, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Field Elm is a tall but highly variable elm that hybridizes frequently and often suckers from its base.

It also has highly variable resistance to disease within the species, but cultivars and hybrids are available that have promising disease resistance.

Because it suckers easily, it usually regenerates even after being devastated by the disease.

It grows naturally in forests in river valleys where it is tolerant of both floods and drought.

Identifying Features of the Field Elm

Field Elm is a variable species that hybridize frequently.

They’re tall trees with robustly rounded crowns, mature trunks are often hollow and sucker from the base, and the bark is brown to gray-brown and v-grooved with interlacing ridges.

Twigs sometimes have corky wings.

Leaves are variable, but in general, they are 2.4 – 5.9” long, flat, pubescent when young becoming smooth and glossy, oval to lanceolate, doubly serrated, with a short-pointed tip and an oblique base that doesn’t cover the 0.2 – 0.6” long stalk. There are usually less than 12 secondary veins on each side of the midvein.

One consistent feature, seen with a magnifying glass, is minute black glands along the leaf veins.

Flowers have white stigmas and stamens with red anthers.

Samaras are obovate, hairless, roughly ½” long, notched at the tip, with the seed close to the notch.

Often Confused With: Field Elm is similar to Wych Elm, but the leaf stalk is not covered by the asymmetric basal lobe, and it also has more slender branches. Siberian Elm is also similar, but its short-stalked leaves rarely have an oblique base.

Other Common Names: Smooth-leaved Elm, Narrow-leaved Elm, East Anglian Elm

Native Area: Southern European east to Asia Minor, Iran

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 90 ft tall, 30 – 40 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

  1. Frontier Elm Ulmus x ‘Frontier’ is a hybrid of Ulmus minor and Ulmus parvifolia creating a small to medium-sized tree with a compact pyramidal crown, ascending branches that descend at their tips, smooth gray bark, and unique reddish-purple fall color – Image via Nature Hills
  2. Homestead Elm Ulmus ‘Homestead‘ is a very complex hybrid (U. pumila × (U. hollandica ‘Vegeta’ × U. minor) × (U. pumila var. pinnatao-ramosa × U. minor ‘Hoersholmiensis’) with a strong symmetrically pyramidal crown and bark that becomes grooved with age – Image via Nature Hills
Field Elm Cultivars
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

14. English Elm (Ulmus minor ‘Atinia’/Ulmus procera)

English Elm (Ulmus_minor_'Atinia')
Image by Rosser1954, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

English Elm was once believed to be a distinct species, Ulmus procera, but recent genetic evidence has shown that it is actually a clone of Ulmus minor brought to England by the Romans 2000 years ago.

It is one of the largest and fastest-growing elms in Europe but was particularly devastated by Dutch Elm Disease, being kept alive now mostly through its root suckers.

It spreads vegetatively only by root suckers since its flowers are sterile. Yet it’s introduced throughout eastern North America and considered invasive in New Jersey.

Identifying Features of the European Elm

European Elms have open crowns, corky-ridged branches, and grayish-brown, deeply grooved, flaking bark.

Leaves are lanceolate-elliptic to ovate, 1.2”- 3.93”, with strongly oblique bases, acute to long-pointed tips, villous to scabrous 0.12 – 0.48” leaf stalks, and doubly serrated margins.

Lower leaf surfaces are villous with woolly tufts in vein axils, and dark green upper surfaces are hairless to slightly scabrous.

Flowers in dense short non-pendulous racemes have green, tan, or reddish-purple shallowly lobed calyxes, slightly pubescent white stigmas, and 3 – 5(-6) stamens with dark brown anthers.

Samaras are light brown, darker or red over the seed, rounded, 0.4 – 0.7”, mostly hairless, with persistent styles and shallowly notched and ciliate tips.

Often Confused With: English Elm can be differentiated from Field Elm, which does not have villous lower leaf surfaces with wooly tufts or samaras that are ciliate on their notched tips.

Other Common Names: Atinian Elm, Common Elm, English Cork Elm, European Elm, Silver Elm

Native Area: Throughout Europe and western Asia

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 100 – 130 ft tall, 40 – 50 ft spread

15. Dutch Elm (Ulmus x hollandica)

Dutch Elm AZ0114_Ulmus_x_hollandica
Image by Tom elm, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Dutch Elm is a hybrid of the Wych and Field Elms and shows considerable variability in their growth and form. Their offspring are generally fertile and go on to create more highly variable forms.

It is frequently further commercially hybridized, and some of these newer hybrid cultivars show some good resistance to Dutch Elm Disease.

Identifying Features of the Dutch Elm

Dutch Elm trees are hybrids between the Wych Elm and Field Elm and have many intermediate characteristics that vary from tree to tree, especially between cultivars.

In general, they are large trees with tall conical crowns that may be narrow or almost rounded in more dwarf cultivar forms.

Twigs are hairless to sparsely hairy.

Leaves are generally light green, serrated, ovate, and have slightly to more obvious tufts of hairs in the vein axils on the undersides of the leaves. Secondary veins vary in number between 13 – 21 on each side of the main vein.

Often Confused With: Being a hybrid with highly variable morphology, Dutch Elm could easily be misidentified. It is mostly confused with Field Elm, which has no tufts of hairs in its vein axils, and European White Elm, which has oblique leaf bases that are rounded on one side and angled on the other and very long-stalked flowers in its short racemes.

Other Common Names: Holland Elm, Hybrid Elm

Native Area: Across Europe, wherever the ranges of the parent species overlap

USDA Growing Zones: 5 (4 with protection) to 9

Average Size at Maturity: 100 – 130 ft tall, 60 – 80 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

  1. Regal Elm Ulmus x ‘Regal’ is a hybrid from the cross of Ulmus × hollandica ‘Commelin’ and ‘215’ (Ulmus pumila × ‘Hoersholmiensis’). It is a medium-sized tree that starts out columnar but becomes oval with age and has large glossy dark green leaves that are not densely spaced, allowing for dappled sunlight beneath – Images via Nature Hills
Regal Elm Cultivar

16. Japanese Elm (Zelkova serrata)

Japanese Elm Zelkova_serrata
Image by ja:User:Miya, Own work, GFDL

Japanese Elms are a different genus in the Ulmaceae family and are often called Japanese Zelkovas. However, they are called elms and superficially resemble them enough to include them here.

They are popular landscape trees for their attractive form, bark, and leaves, and their high resistance to the disease and bark beetles devastating other elms.

They are easily grown in moist, well-drained soil of any type and will tolerate poor and dry soils.

It is introduced in parts of the eastern US and is considered invasive in some, though in its native habitat, it is Near Threatened.

Identifying Features of the Japanese Elm

Japanese Elms are long-lived medium to large trees with a broad rounded, or vase-shaped crown and short trunks that split early into multiple spreading to ascending trunks.

The bark has horizontal lenticels like cherry bark and becomes exfoliating when mature, creating an orange-brown mottled look.

Leaves are oblong-elliptic, medium green, up to 3” long, with coarsely serrated ciliate margins and long-pointed tips. Fall color varies from dull yellow to brighter yellow-orange to red-brown.

Unlike other elms, it has small yellow-green monoecious flowers that appear in spring, singly, or in small groups.

Also, unlike other elms, its fruits are ovate wingless green drupes less than ½” that ripen to brown in the fall.

Often Confused With The bark of Japanese Elm, when young, looks similar to Cherry Bark Elm, and when mature, it can look a bit like Chinese Elm. However, the presence of small yellow-green monoecious flowers not in fascicles or racemes and drupes instead of samaras will quickly distinguish them from all other elms.

Other Common Names: Japanese Zelkova, Keaki, Saw Leaf Zelkova

Native Area: Japan, Taiwan, eastern China

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 80 ft tall, 50 – 80 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

  1. Village Green Zelkova Zelkova serrata ‘Village Green’ is a medium-sized tree with a symmetrical vase-shaped crown, exfoliating bark, and glossy dark green leaves that turn a fiery mix of red, orange, and yellow in fall – Image via Nature Hills
  2. Green Vase’® Zelkova Tree Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’ is a fairly tall tree with a vase-shaped to umbrella-shaped crown with somewhat narrow leaves that are dark green and coarsely serrated – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  3. City Sprite® Japanese Zelkova Zelkova serrata JFS-KW1′ is a small tree with a rounded crown of dense spreading-ascending branches and sharp-toothed, densely packed green leaves – Image via Nature Hills
  4. Wireless® Zelkova Zelkova serrata ‘Schmidtlow’ is a smaller tree with serrated medium green leaves and a dense, broad vase-shaped crown that sometimes becomes flattened and wider than tall – Image via Nature Hills
Japanese Elm Cultivars
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Growing Elm Trees in Your Garden

Elegant elm trees are lovely garden specimens for their beautiful forms, pretty bright green leaves, the shade they provide, and their usually low maintenance once established.

As with any tree, you should always do a little research to choose the right tree to establish your elm successfully.

You need to understand the USDA Planting Zones to ensure the tree you want will grow well in your climate.

Then, you need to check the tree’s soil, light, and moisture requirements and compare that to the available spot. Check out How to Pick A Tree For Your Yard for more information on choosing the right tree for your chosen spot.

Most elms are mild temperate species though some will do well in warm temperate climates, and others will do well in colder climates. If you live in one of the more extreme climates, be sure to choose your tree accordingly.

Most elm trees require full sun to grow well, though some species and cultivars will also do well in partial (but never full) shade.

They generally do well in most soil types as long as they are moist but well-drained.

Some, like Cedar Elm, do have some drought tolerance, but most elms require moist soils. If you have dry soil and don’t want the Cedar Elm, you may want to try a juniper or pine instead.

Few tolerate extremely wet soils, with the exception of the European White Elm, which will tolerate waterlogged soils. Otherwise, if you have very wet soil, you may want to explore Swamp Cypress, Red Maple, or Loblolly Pine, which all do well in wetter soils.

Whenever possible, you should choose species native to your area to enhance biodiversity and wildlife values and reduce the risk of introducing exotic invasive species to your area. For instance, several non-native elms are known to be invasive in North America.

Unfortunately, many of the native North American elms are susceptible to the Dutch Elm Disease that has devastated their populations over the last century. However, new cultivars cloned from resistant native elms are becoming readily available. Doing your research can help you find a resistant native elm suitable for your area.

How to Tell Your Tree Has Dutch Elm Disease

Dutch Elm Disease is a vascular wilt disease caused by the fungal pathogen Ophiostoma novo-ulmi that is spread by native and introduced elm bark beetles.

The earliest visible symptoms are the yellowing and wilting of leaves on individual branches that brown and curl up when the entire branch begins to die.

Symptoms can rapidly spread throughout the crown, with trees dying in one to several years.

If you peel back the bark on infected branches, you can see a brown discoloration in the outer layer of wood. This is actually the first symptom, though it is usually only discovered once the leaves on the branch begin to die.

If you see symptoms of Dutch Elm Disease, you should remove the infected branches at least 5 ft below the symptomatic area immediately. Then either burn or bury the infected branches or trees to help prevent its spread.

Elegant Elm Trees

Human Uses

Elegant elm trees are popular landscape trees used for their broad crowns with abundant summer shade that still let light in the winter. They are also popular as street trees for their tolerance of urban conditions, pollution, and poor soils.

Most elm wood is very hard, knot-free, close-grained, and desirable for use in carpentry. Even sapwood is used in carpentry. It is also sometimes used as firewood.

Elm wood is often used in boat making because it is durable even underwater.

Since the wood is relatively odorless, it is sometimes used for crates and barrels used for food.

Elm bark is used in traditional herbal medicine for digestive problems, healing wounds, coughs, colds, bleeding lungs, improving fertility in women, and other conditions.

Slippery Elm inner bark is popular in herbal medicine as a healing and nutritious mucilaginous herb used to help treat IBS, Crohn’s, and Ulcerative Colitis.

Wildlife Values

Elm trees are the primary and additional food sources for numerous Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species.

Birds and squirrels use the trees for cover and nesting sites. They also feed on the seeds along with rabbits, opossums, and other rodents. Squirrels are often seen eating the flowers.

Deer occasionally browse on twigs and leaves.

Elms are beautiful trees with so many interesting features, making them relatively easy to identify. You now have the skills to go out and identify the elms around you. Hopefully, you will see some healthy native elms, and if you see invasive ones growing in the wild, please inform your local invasive species societies.

Enjoy the elms around you!

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