Learn about one of the most popular trees for landscaping—the Elm tree. This comprehensive guide explores the elm trees, famous elm tree types, and some interesting facts.
If you're looking for a stately and regal tree for your home or garden, look no further than the elm tree. These beautiful trees are perfect for adding curb appeal to your property. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit any space.
Owing to their ornamental appeal, Elm trees make an excellent addition to any garden. They look good, but they are also relatively easy to care for. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at everything you need to know about elm trees,
Elm Tree Characteristics
The elm trees are deciduous and semi-deciduous trees native to north temperate regions. They are a member of the Ulmaceae family and belong to the Ulmus genus. It is believed that the genus first appeared about 20 million years ago. There are about 35 species of elm trees found across the globe.
Preferred primarily for their elegant and vase-shaped growth habit and attractive, shady foliage, elm trees are widely cultivated as ornamental trees. These trees have various meanings and symbolism associated with them and have been mentioned in several ancient texts and literature.
Apart from the ornamental appeal, the Elm trees have several features that make them popular among gardeners and landscapers. Let's look at some of the most notable characteristics of elm trees:
- Elm trees are fast-growing and have an average growth rate of about (0.91 m) 3' every year.
- They have a deep root system that helps them withstand strong winds and storms.
- Elm trees are very adaptable and can grow in various soil types, including clay, loam, and sand.
- They are flowering plants, and they bloom hermaphrodite (self-pollinating) flowers. Typically, the flowers appear during the winter or at the embark of spring.
- The deciduous Elm species lose their leaves during the cold months, while the semi-deciduous species lose their leaves only during a short regrowth period.
- Elm trees are characterized by their upright growth habit and vase-shaped canopy.
- They can grow quite large, with some specimens reaching up to 40 m (130'). However, the average height lies between 15 to 24 m (50' to 80').
- The leaves of elm trees are simple and alternate. They have a serrated margin and are dark green. The leaves turn yellow or brown before falling off in the autumn.
- The bark of elm trees is another distinguishing feature. It is smooth and grayish-brown in color, with a distinct corky texture. The bark also has several medicinal uses.
- The Elm tree's wood is hard and strong, making it resistant to wear and tear. It is also very easy to work with, making it a popular choice for various applications, including furniture-making and construction.
- These trees can be propagated through grafting, seeds, or root cutting.
- The dwarf Elm species are primarily used as ornamental plants in gardens, parks, and public spaces.
Meanings and Symbolisms Associated with Elm Trees
Elm trees have several meanings and symbolisms associated with them. They have a rich history giving way to several legends and myths, and they vary with different cultures and places. Here are some of the widespread myths and lore attached to elm trees.
German mythology associates Elm trees with femininity, and it is believed to represent the first women who came into existence. Elm trees were considered sacred in Celtic mythology and were often planted near burial mounds.
According to Roman and Greek beliefs, Elm trees symbolize Oneiros, the god of night and dreams. Therefore, it is said that they represent sleep, dreams, and death.
Elm trees are considered a symbol of strength, stability, and endurance. Several tribes native to Europe, Asia, and America admire them for their psychic powers. In Christianity, Elm trees are believed to represent resurrection and Christ's discipleship.
Literary and Artistic Implications
The implications are restricted to cultures or myths; the Elm trees have found a place in several works of literature and art.
For instance, the famous poet Virgil sighted Elm trees in his writings, associating them to prophecy. In pastoral poetry, Elm trees were often used to symbolize idealistic life. However, one of the earliest mentions of Elm trees is found in Iliad, the ancient Greek poem about Achilles.
Elm trees also feature in many paintings, typically as landscaping elements. They are found in the works of several renowned landscape painters like Frederick Childe Hassam, John Constable, George Inness, Karel Klinkenberg, and Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.
Elm trees are mentioned in several urban legends to signify friendship, love, and bond. They are commonly found in the front of churches as they are considered the sign of purity, protection, and liberation.
The name of a present-day London neighborhood was derived from the seven Elm trees standing there when it was a rural area. In France, the elm is regarded as the tree of justice.
Elm trees are also believed to have magical powers. They are often planted in front of homes as a charm against evil forces.
Now that you know all about Elm trees and their symbolism let's introduce you to the famous types.
Popular Types of Elm Trees
There are about 35 elm species; however, here we are discussing the most popular ones. If you encounter a big tree with big leaves and a cork-like texture, there's a good chance it's one of the following elm species.
Slippery Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Rubra
Hailing from Eastern North America, this deciduous elm is commonly found in Dakota, Quebec, Texas, and North Florida. It's called the 'Red Elm' or 'Soft Elm' due to the tree's soft and inner red flesh. The slippery elm shares similarities with the American elm in appearance but is related to the European wych elm. Typically, they reach about 12 to 19 m (39' to 62') high, but occasionally, they extend over 30 m (nearly 100').
It has ovate-shaped, serrated leaves with a rough upper side and a smooth underside. The Slippery elm has medicinal properties. Its inner bark is efficient in treating cough, wounds, urinary tract infections, and diarrhea. It is susceptible to the Dutch elm disease but comparatively less than the American elm varieties.
Wych Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Glabra
Known for its sizable crown and shade, Wych elm is native to Europe. The Wych elm has a wide range, making it one of the most common elms in Europe. Some of the common names for this elm include Scotch elm, Scots elm, Common elm, and Wych elm. It is the largest of all the European elms and can grow up to 40 m (131') high.
The wych elm is categorized by its umbrella-shaped crown spreading about 18 m (60'). When the tree is young, it has smooth gray bark, but as it matures, deep fissures appear. The foliage features oval-shaped, yellow-green, and serrated leaves that turn yellow during the fall. This large deciduous tree grows best in areas with high humidity and moist soils.
Cedar Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Crassifolia
The Cedar Elm is a medium-sized deciduous tree characterized by its corky bark and small, dark green leaves. Native to North America, this tree is commonly found in the southeastern region of the United States. Favored by the common name cedar elm or scrub elm, it's a deciduous tree grown widely for its ornamental appeal.
The tree reaches about 24 to 27 m (78' to 88'), and its leaves are simple, alternate, and have a toothed margin. They are the smallest leaves in all elm trees and are dark green in spring and drop in fall. The leafy, round-shaped crown is dense with an irregular outline. In the late summer or early fall, apetalous, reddish-purple flowers bloom, followed by small-winged samaras.
Winged Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Alata
This slow-growing deciduous tree is an epidemic in the southeastern and south-central United States. It is also known as the 'wahoo' or 'cork elm' and can grow up to about 18 m (60') high. The winged elm gets its name from the cork-like wings found on the twigs. Typically, this elm species grows about 9 to 15 m (30' to 50') and has a papery structure.
Its foliage is ovate-shaped and has a toothed margin with a pale green, hairy underside and forms a round-shaped crown. The wings turn golden yellow during the summer, and then small burgundy flowers appear. The dark brown bark is easily identifiable with scales and furrowed ridges. It grows tall, but it's the least shade-tolerant among all the other types.
Cherry Bark Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Villosa
The Cherry Bark Elm, also known as the Marn Elm, is a deciduous tree characterized by its corky and scaly bark. The elm species is an epidemic in the valley of Kashmir and is one of the most distinct elms. This elm has a wide, rounded crown with drooping branches. It can grow up to about 25 m (82'), and some of these trees are believed to be over 800 years old.
It produces densely clustered small flowers during the spring, followed by elliptical samaras. The bark of this elm serves medicinal purposes as it has anti-inflammatory properties. It has a low vulnerability to the Dutch elm disease and the elm leaf beetle. Now, they are treated as sacred and are restricted mainly to shrines and temples.
Rock Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Thomasii
The rock elm is an American Midwest deciduous tree primarily found in the states of Quebec, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. It grows to about 15 to 30 m (50' to 100') and gets its name from the rugged and corky wood. Owing to this attribute, this elm is also called cork elm. The rock elm is categorized by the dark grayish-brown bark, deep fissures, and flat-topped ridges.
The leaves are ovate-shaped, toothed, and have a rough upper surface. These leaves have hair on the underside and are green in spring but turn yellow during the winters. The Rock elm grows best in heavy clay or loamy soils, well-drained soils in full sun but can also tolerate partial shade.
David Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Davidiana
Hailing from North China, the David Elm was widespread across Japan, Mongolia, Siberia, and Korea. This elm shares several attributes with the American elm but is comparatively smaller. It is a small deciduous tree that reaches about 15 m (50') and appears to be a smaller version of the American elm.
The elm is characterized by its oblong, serrated leaves and rough upper surface; these are dark red when young and turn green when mature. It has a slender trunk and grows a dense canopy providing ample shade. Moreover, these elms have good resistance to the Dutch elm disease.
American Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Americana
The American Elm is a popular elm species found throughout North America. It is also known as the water elm, soft elm, or white elm. This tree is characterized by its tall and straight trunk with spreading branches. The leaves are simple and alternate with a toothed margin. They are 7 to 20 cm (2.7" to 8") in length, dark green in color, and turn yellow in autumn.
The American Elm can grow up to about 30 m (98'). They produce small flowers purple-brown in color, and they appear in early spring before the leaves. This elm tree was one of the popular types and preferred for its fountain-like spread. However, the popularity took a huge blow due to the Dutch elm disease.
Chinese Elm Tree
Scietific name: Ulmus Parvifolia
The Chinese Elm is a deciduous tree native to East Asia, specifically China, Korea, India, and Japan. It's widely known by the common names lacebark elm and drake elm. This small to medium, deciduous, semi-deciduous tree reaches about 10 to 18 m (33' to 59') high. They are categorized by their shade canopy and leathery, single-toothed leaves.
They feature a slender trunk with smooth, gray bark that exfoliates in flat plates to reveal orange or reddish-brown inner bark. The small, purple flowers give way to winged fruits (samaras) that are oval and about 1.3 (0.5") cm long. These elms prefer full sun to partial shade and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.
European White Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Laevis Pall
The European White Elm is a deciduous tree most commonly found in Central, Southern, and Western Europe. It has several common names, such as stately elm, fluttering elm, and spreading elm. Moreover, it's called the Russian elm in the United States. It shares similarities with the wych elm in height but comparatively has an untidy branch structure and uneven crown.
It is a medium to large-sized tree that can grow up to 30 m (98') and has a life expectancy of over 200 years. When young, it has a smooth whitish-gray trunk that becomes reddish-brown, fissured, and scaly as it matures. Since it provides good shade, they are commonly grown in parks, cemeteries, and streets.
Siberian Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Pumila
This deciduous tree is a dwarf elm native to Asia, Siberia, Mongolia, China, northern Kashmir, and Korea. It's known by the common names Asiatic elm and dwarf elm but is often mistaken for the 'Chinese elm.' This bushy elm with a dark gray bark extends about 25 m (82') high and has a dense canopy.
They are categorized by the brittle branches, winges, samaras, and red flowers. The flowers bloom during early spring for one week before the leaves appear. The Siberian elm is an excellent shade tree that prefers full sun and well-drained soil. They are resistant to Dutch elm disease, making them great for landscaping.
English Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Procera, Ulmus Minor ‘Atinia’
Introduced by bronze age farmers to the UK, English elm is most commonly found in southern England. Reaching about 40 m (131'), they are one of the fastest-growing elms. They were all over England before the Dutch elm disease struck in the 1960s, resulting in a sharp population decline. They are categorized by their grayish-brown trunk and rough fissures. The English Elm is a deciduous tree that can live for over 100 years.
The elm produces tassel-like flowers prone to falling during the autumn and spring. The elm's long branches spread outwards, forming a dense crown. Its leaves are hairy, oval-shaped, and toothed, plus they are smaller than the wych elm leaves. English elm trees are sensitive to the Dutch elm disease, and it's the first elm to have been genetically modified to resist disease.
Camperdown Elm Tree
Scientific name: Ulmus Glabra ‘Camperdownii’
The Camperdown Elm is a cultivar of the Wych Elm that was discovered in Scotland from about 1835 to 1840. It is a small weeping tree with a dense crown and branches that droop all the way to the ground. They can grow up to about 4 to 8 m (13' to 26') and have a unique growing habit. The tree is widespread for its contorted branches, dome-shaped crown, and small leaves.
Its leaves are veined, double-toothed, and rough, plus they turn yellow in the fall. They are excellent ornamental trees and are often used in landscaping. Moreover, it produces greenish flowers that take over the tree crown in the spring. However, the Camperdown Elm is susceptible to Dutch elm disease and can suffer leaf damage.
These were the most popular elm trees found across the globe. Although most of these trees are susceptible to Dutch elm disease, they are still widely cultivated for their beauty and various uses.
Uses of Elm Trees
Elm trees have several uses. They are commonly used as shade trees and ornamental trees. However, their utility extends far beyond just the decorative appeal. Elmwood is solid and durable, plus it's not hard to work with, and its versatile properties bring forth several uses. Let's take a look at some of the most popular uses of elm trees:
Elm trees are a popular choice as ornamental or shade trees in landscaping. They are perfect for creating shady areas in your yard or garden and can be used as privacy hedges.
Their unique shape and broad canopies provide adequate shade, and if planted together, they can provide a continuous shade. Elm trees are also widely used in parks and public gardens. You get a lot of different varieties to choose from, so you can pick one that best suits your needs.
Elm bark has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. It is believed to have medicinal properties that can help treat many ailments. Some of the most popular uses of elm bark include treating diarrhea, dysentery, and other gastrointestinal disorders. It is also used as a poultice to treat wounds and cuts. Elm bark can also be used to make a tea that is effective in treating coughs and colds.
Elm wood is strong and durable, making it an ideal choice for furniture. It is often used for making tables, chairs, dressers, cabinets, and other pieces of furniture. The wood has a beautiful grain pattern that can be enhanced with a stain or varnish.
Elm wood is also used in construction. It is often used for making beams, joists, and other structural elements. They are durable in water and have a high resistance to rot and decay, making them ideal for outdoor use.
Some elm species bear edible fruits that can be used in multiple ways. You can consume them raw or cooked. Some of them have a nutty taste, while some seem like green peas. The fruits don't have ornamental appeal but are fragrant with a unique flavor and can also be used as an ingredient.
Elmwood flooring is becoming increasingly popular. It is an excellent choice for those looking for an alternative to hardwood flooring. Elm floors are beautiful and add a touch of elegance to any home. They are also quite durable and can last for many years with proper care and maintenance.
Elm trees are often used for agricultural purposes. Their deep roots make them an ideal choice for windbreaks and hedgerows. They also help in preventing soil erosion. Elm trees are also used as fodder for livestock. Their leaves and twigs can be used to feed goats, sheep, and cattle.
Elm wood makes a good firewood option. It's hardwood and produces above-average heat. It also has a low smoke output which is a bonus. Elmwood burns hot and slow, making it ideal for overnight fires. However, splitting it can be challenging due to the interlocking grains.
Factors to Identify Elm Trees
Elm trees come in all shapes and sizes. Plus, they share several attributes with other trees in the same family. So how do you identify an Elm tree?
Knowing the basic identification features makes it relatively easy to spot one. Here are some of the key factors that will help you recognize Elm trees:
The leaves of Elm trees are simple and alternate. They have a single blade with serrated edges and a short petiole. The size and shape of the leaves depend on the species of the tree. They are dark green and have a smooth top surface but are rough on the undersides.
These Elm leaves turn yellow or brown during fall. Typically, the base of the leaf is asymmetrical, and the veins are noticeable. If you look close enough, you can identify elm trees with their veins. The European white Elms have 17 veins on the leaf's front and 14 on the underside.
The bark of Elm trees is another identifying factor. It's smooth and thin in young trees but gets rough and scaly with age. The color of the bark varies from light to dark gray. In some cases, it can also be brown or black. There are some types with reddish-brown barks.
Some species may have a corky outer bark that peels off in long, thin strips, while others may feature deep fissures. The European white elm trees have smooth barks that stay throughout the tree's lifetime.
The crowns of Elm trees are elliptical or oval. They are dense and symmetrical, with branches that grow evenly on all sides. The branches are thick and spread out horizontally. Some species may have a round or pyramidal crown.
The crowns of young Elm trees are dome-shaped, but they become flatter and spread out as the trees mature. They form dense canopies, making them one of the best shady trees.
Elm trees are dioecious and semi-dioecious, which means they have male and female reproductive organs. The male flowers are found in clusters, while the female flowers are found singly or in pairs.
Pollinated by the wind, the flowers of Elm trees are small and inconspicuous. They appear on the tree before the leaves in spring, and elm flowers don't have petals. The flowers form reddish-brown clusters on the treetops and are green or reddish.
The fruit of Elm trees is a winged seed, also known as a samara. It is oval or oblong with a flattened body. The wings of the seed are unequal in size and help it spin as it falls to the ground.
Elm trees usually produce one seed per flower, but there can be 2 to 3 seeds per samara. The fruit ripens in late summer or early fall and is dispersed by the wind. Most elm fruits are not suitable to eat for humans, but it is a favorite food source for birds.
Elm trees usually have a splitting trunk that forms a 'Y' shape. The main trunk branches two or more trunks as the tree matures. This is a significant identification factor as it sets the elm trees apart from other single trunk trees like aspen or ash trees.
The diameter of the trunk also varies from one species to another. Some Elm trees can have a trunk as thick as 3 feet, while others may be just a foot in diameter. The trunk is thick, and the bark is rough. In young trees, the trunk is covered with smooth gray bark. But as the tree ages, the bark becomes scaly and rough.
Location can also be a possible factor that can help you identify elm trees. For instance, they are a common sight in the eastern part of the US. The type of critters the tree attracts can also give away its identity. In the case of elm trees, it draws squirrels, raccoons, possums, woodpeckers, and several other birds.
Some Fascinating Facts About Elm Trees
The Elm species is full of wonderful surprises. Here are some facts about these trees that you may find mesmerizing.
- Elm trees have been around for over 20 million years.
- The average lifespan of elm trees is 60 to 100 years; however, the ones affected with Dutch elm disease early on won't last more than 30 years.
- Some elm trees are immune to Dutch elm disease, and healthy elm trees can live for over 200 to 300 years.
- Elm trees are an integral part of the ecosystem and wildlife conservation. Several lives like grouse, possum, prairie, chickens, and squirrels depend on them for food and shelter.
- Elm wood is used for making coffins and ships.
- The bark of elm trees has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. It is rich in tannin and was once used to treat wounds.
- Native Americans used elm woods to make longbows and canoes during the middle ages.
- A single elm tree is equivalent to the cooling effect of 5 air conditioners.
- Elmwood is durable underwater, making it extremely useful for the construction of farm buildings and boats.
Whether you're looking for a shade tree or adding some ornamental appeal to your yard, elm trees are a great option. Now that you know how to identify these trees, keep an eye out for them the next time you're on a nature walk! We hope this article will help you find these trees in your area and appreciate their beauty.