Gardens and Outdoors Plants

The 15 Best Elm Tree Species

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The Elm genus has more than 30 species of trees belonging to the family Ulmaceae. Elm trees can be recognized by inspecting the doubly serrated leaves with an oval shape. They’re deciduous trees whose petalless flowers turn to seeds called samaras. These winglike structures will usually surround the nutlike fruit of the elm. Considering its prolific spread in temperate regions, the elm can become invasive quite easily.

Majestic elms were frequently used as landscape trees due to their great characteristics. Elm trees are appreciated for their impressive heights and beautiful foliage. The wood of this tree has some nice properties that make it suitable for furniture and constructing boats and farm buildings. Its impressive durability made it one of the favored choices historically for building ships and piers.

Because of the Dutch elm disease epidemic, lots of wild and cultivated elm populations have disappeared. The fungoid infection is spread by bark beetles and a wide range of elm species are vulnerable to the disease. Due to the lack of diversity in the US as people planted only the American elm, the Dutch elm disease has been particularly devastating in this region. Fortunately, there are now many varieties that boast resistance to this deadly disease.

1. American Elm

While this species of elm has been profoundly affected by the Dutch elm disease in the past, it has now made a comeback. There are many resistant varieties of American elm that start to populate eastern regions of North America. This type of elm is characterized by its dark gray bark that shows a ridged texture. It can reach impressive heights of around 100 feet while producing beautiful elliptical-shaped leaves.

If you’re looking for a large elm tree species, it’s safe to say that the American elm can cover your needs. Their majestic appearance can be admired in many regions from Florida to Texas and Alberta. The branches have a tendency to spread like fountains. A great aspect of this tree is its hardiness in terms of surviving extreme temperatures. The American elm won’t be easily affected by cold weather. Aside from selecting a variety that’s resistant to Dutch elm disease, it’s also important to watch out for vulnerabilities to phloem necrosis, another dangerous disease.

2. Slippery or Red Elm

The slippery elm tree’s name comes from the gluelike substance in the inner bark but it’s also called the red elm due to the red tinge of the wood. This elm tree species offers a hard type of wood while the inner bark has a distinctive scent. The slippery elm is known for the important herbal significance of its bark. Proponents of alternative medicine make use of the mucilage from the inner bark in poultices or steeped in water to create remedies. The properties of slippery elm bark can fight against sore throats and heartburn.

While it’s not as common as other species of elm trees, the slippery elm can be found in many eastern US areas. It favors moist uplands but it can tolerate dry soils as well. The tree has been considered as belonging to the American elm species initially but now it’s known as its own separate species. This is not surprising considering the similarities in appearance with American elms. At a closer inspection, the slippery elm actually resembles the European wych elm better considering the flower structure.

3. Chinese Elm

The Chinese elm has a very aesthetically-pleasing vase shape and similar characteristics to the American elm. An advantage is that it’s not as affected by the dreaded Dutch elm disease. As its name suggests, this type of elm is a native of China as well as other regions in Asia. It’s also called the lacebark elm and can grow to a maximum height of 60 feet. The tree can thrive in shaded areas and has very lush foliage that creates a beautiful appearance together with its slender trunk. The bark of the Chinese elm can show tinges of gray and green.

Similar to other types of elm, the Chinese variety offers very durable wood that has many applications. While this elm tree doesn’t have very impressive flowers, it’s a very appreciated species to be used as a street tree or for providing shade. Moist soils are preferable when growing the Chinese elm but the drought tolerance makes the tree suitable for a wide range of conditions.

4. Siberian Elm

One of the most versatile types of elms is the Siberian species. This tenacious tree is known for being able to thrive in different kinds of environments. If your yard doesn’t offer ideal conditions for most trees, you might have some success when trying to grow a Siberian elm. The aggressive spread of the tree can make this elm type invasive in certain regions. A native of eastern Siberia and central Asia, the Siberian elm is a bushy tree that grows quite fast. Its main benefits are the ability to provide shade and to act as a windbreak.

The maximum height of this type of elm is around 60 feet. It’s not a particularly large elm but the Siberian variety comes with a fairly bushy appearance. The fruits of the tree have an oval shape and are surrounded by flat samara. Well-drained soils work best to let this elm tree grow as expected. Siberian elms don’t have a particularly long lifespan, especially when it comes to trees growing in non-native regions.

5. Camperdown Elm

Closely related to the Wych elm, the Camperdown variety has a distinctive look with trailing branches and dense foliage to provide reliable shade. It’s also known as the weeping elm or umbrella elm due to its appearance. Native to UK regions, the Camperdown elm gets its name from the location where it was initially discovered. When in full bloom, this type of elm can make a great visual impression with its small silvery blossoms that decorate the dark green dome of the tree.

The Camperdown elm can only be propagated through grafting. It can grow a broad head that can reach around 13 feet with a similarly-looking crown. The contorted branching of this tree represents its main highlight. It gives it a very interesting appearance together with the weeping habit. Specimens can vary in terms of looks due to many factors such as location, rootstock, and possible mutations. Although the Camperdown elm tree is susceptible to Dutch elm disease, many diminutive specimens managed to survive in their native regions.

6. Cherry Bark Elm

The cherry bark elm has a very long lifespan which makes it a great option when you consider the decent resistance to Dutch elm disease. This is a type of Asiatic elm so you can find it growing in its natural environment in Western India and Himalaya regions. Cherry bark elms are deciduous trees that prefer full sun. There are no special considerations when it comes to soil quality requirements, just proper drainage should suffice to make the tree thrive.

The tree can reach heights of up to 80 feet. It has elliptic-shaped leaves with dense flowers. Other interesting characteristics of the cherry bark elm include the horizontal bands of lenticels found on the tree’s bark. This tree has a pendulous branching look but it’s not as dense compared to other types of elm. Despite low susceptibility to Dutch elm disease, the cherry bark elm can be more often affected by other diseases like elm yellows.

7. Cedar Elm

Whereas other elm types don’t fare well in urban areas due to hazardous conditions such as poor soils and pollution, the cedar elm seems to be an exception. The name of this elm suggests a relation to cedar trees but there’s hardly any common ground. Cedar elms tend to grow close to juniper trees that are sometimes called cedars. Due to its prevalence in southern regions of the US, this type of elm is known commonly as the Texas cedar elm or southern rock elm.

The maximum height reached by the cedar elm is around 80 to 90 feet. Trees have small leaves and produce wind-pollinated apetalous flowers. A cedar elm in bloom can look beautiful thanks to the purple-reddish color of its flowers. The small dimensions don’t make it stand out though. Considering the susceptibility to Dutch elm disease, this variety has lost its overall popularity in recent years. It’s also moderately affected by vascular wilt and mistletoe parasites.

8. English Elm

Popular in many regions of England, this type of elm can grow quite tall and have a reasonably long lifespan. The English elm has a rough bark with a color that evolves from grey to brown as the tree advances in age. Similar to other types of elms, this variety shows off very small leaves that are usually toothed and oval-shaped. English elms used to be more commonly found in its native regions but the Dutch elm disease has mostly decimated them.

These trees are hermaphrodites and produce flowers that hang in beautiful tassels. As opposed to other species, the English elm relies on suckers for reproduction instead of seeds. Pollination depends on the wind. Flowers will turn to winged fruits called samaras that are characteristic of elms. The look of this elm is quite similar to the Wych elm but you can differentiate the trees by checking the leaves. The English elm doesn’t have as many serrations on the margin of its leaves. Many specimens of this tree can reach imposing heights of more than 130 feet.

9. David Elm

This native to various Asiatic regions boasts better resistance to Dutch elm disease. The David elm grows to heights of 30-50 feet but seems to perform ideally only in its native area range. Even though this is a smaller type of elm, it has some decent landscaping potential. The tree tolerates urban environments quite well and doesn’t mind restricted root spaces. In terms of appearance, the most interesting characteristic is its vase-shaped growth habit. The tree tends to grow as wide as it grows tall.

David elms grow relatively fast and can benefit from pruning to give it a better structural shape. The slender trunk of the tree can take your mind to the American elm. Another great aspect of this type of elm is the way it provides good shade through its dense canopy. There are two main varieties of David elms. The “Davidiana” type is found only in China while the other is more widely distributed and commonly known as the Japanese elm.

10. European White Elm

As its name suggests, this type of elm is native to European regions. It’s a fast-growing tree that displays an open crown with a distinctive shape that’s either oval or round. The European white elm is also known as the Russian elm or the spreading elm. Trees can reach impressive heights of around 100 feet and produce glossy asymmetric leaves with clusters of dense flowers. Round samaras follow as the elm develops fruits.

The bark of the European white elm feels smooth to the touch but only when the tree is still young. Mature trees have a fissured lengthwise bark. You will often find these trees in floodplains and along riverbanks as European white elms prefer moist and fertile soils. The trees have some solid flooding resistance and can be grown successfully in urban areas. Unfortunately, this type of elm is known for being susceptible to Dutch elm disease so it’s important to choose a resistant variety.

11. Rock Elm

With a cylindrical crown and corky ridges on branches, the rock elm stands out among other types of elm in terms of appearance. This is a rarer tree that can be found mostly in the US Midwest. It grows up to 80 feet tall and shows elliptical ovate leaves that are hairy on the underside. The rock elm has slender branches with delicate flowers that are similar to the American elm. Ideal growing conditions for this type of elm will usually include moist loamy soils but the tree can adapt to dry uplands or less hospitable environments.

Thriving rock elms can grow quite tall but also fairly long considering that specimens can reach 300 years of age. This type of elm is a valuable lumber tree due to its durable wood that has lots of applications. There are other benefits to growing rock elms in your area. Trees can attract wildlife with the help of their bountiful seed crops. Rock elms used to be more spread out in many regions of the US but nowadays populations are heavily reduced because of Dutch elm disease susceptibility.

12. Wych Elm

The wych elm is another species that has suffered great casualties due to Dutch elm disease. This type of elm is highly appreciated for its majestic appearance. It has a smooth bark that transforms into a fissured look as the tree becomes old. Wych elms can reach large heights of up to 130 feet in some cases. Coarse hairs are found on both the twigs and leaf buds. While other types of elms have a smooth texture on the top of the leaf, the wych type feels rough to the touch.

The wych elm produces purplish-red flowers in small clusters that usually appear in early spring. The tree has a fairly long lifespan, assuming it can elude diseases. When it comes to growing conditions, this type of elm prefers rich and moist soils as you’d find in the north and west parts of the UK. The wych elm is considered the only British native elm species. In fact, the name of the tree comes from Old English “wice” which means supple. Wych can be also spelled “witch”.

13. Field Elm

The field elm is found in its natural environment in the south of Europe but the native range can extend to Asia Minor and Iran. This tree performs best in low-lying forests close to riverbanks. For this reason, the field elm is known to offer good tolerance to droughts as well as summer floods. Most field elms don’t reach heights taller than 100 feet. Some of the typical characteristics worth mentioning are the rough bark and rounded crown. This species shows slender shoots as opposed to a similar variety such as wych elm.

When it comes to Dutch elm disease susceptibility, the field elm seems to have a variable reaction. Some specimens are more resistant than others while elm yellows tolerance is quite decent as well. An interesting characteristic of this elm is the way it produces lots of suckers that can live on after Dutch elm disease decimation. This type of elm is long-lived as trees have been found to live for hundreds of years. The English elm is actually a subspecies of the field elm.

14. Mexican Elm

Known by its scientific name Ulmus mexicana, this type of elm is primarily found in tropical rain forests in Central America. One of the most notable characteristics of this tree is the height. The Mexican elm is considered the tallest species of elm as specimens have been observed to reach around 270 feet. Another distinguishing feature is the grey trunk that supports a deep crown providing a great amount of shade. The glossy leaves have different shapes as some can be elliptic while others have an obovate style.

Mexican elms don’t tolerate cold temperatures very well and they’re quite rarely cultivated in other regions beyond its native range. Although the wood of this tree offers great durability, it has other properties that make it unsuitable for the timber trade industry. It doesn’t dry easily and has a tendency to warp. Some common uses for Mexican elms include the manufacture of tools and furniture. Trees are sometimes planted for ornamentation purposes or to deliver great shade.

15. Large-Fruited Elm

The large-fruited elm gets its name from the large samaras it can produce. This type of elm is commonly found in the Far East and is known for its exceptional tolerance of extreme temperatures. It can grow as either a deciduous tree or a large shrub while the maximum height reaches around 55 feet. The large-fruited elm is hard to distinguish from the American elm when it’s still young.

Both the leaves and trunk show a similar look but this type of elm doesn’t grow as large as the American species. Twigs tend to grow corky wings while the leathery leaves have an obovate shape. Thanks to its good resistance to the Dutch elm disease and lack of susceptibility to elm yellows, the large-fruited elm can be considered quite a hardy tree. This elm has good landscape potential and has been introduced to the United States in 1908.

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