Do you know your elms from your ashes? No, we're not talking about types of wood (although that's an interesting topic for another day). We're talking about types of trees! Elm trees come in all shapes and sizes, but can you tell them apart? Let us be your guide to identifying different types of elm trees.
There are 14 types of elm trees popular in North America, all of which can be identified by their leaves and bark. While some elms are better known than others, they all have unique features that make them easy to locate. So whether you're a tree enthusiast or just trying to figure out what kind of elm you have in your backyard, this guide is for you. So read on, and learn how to identify the different elm trees around you.
What is an Elm Tree and What Does it Mean?
The elm tree is a beautiful, stately plant that has symbolized strength and endurance for centuries. But what exactly is an elm tree? And what does the name "elm" mean?
The elm tree is a member of the Ulmaceae family, which includes about 30 different species of trees. The most common elm species are:
- The American elm (Ulmus americana),
- The European elm (Ulmus glutinosa) and
- The Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia).
Elm trees are characterized by their broad, spreading branches and distinctive leaves, oval-shaped with serrated edges. Elm trees can grow quite large; the tallest recorded American elm was more than 100 feet tall!
"Elm" derives from the Old English word for "tree." The name likely originally referred to the European elm. However, it came to be used for all members of the Ulmaceae family. Today, the terms "elm" and "ulmus," the scientific genus name for this group of trees, are often used interchangeably.
Elm trees have long been prized for their wood, which is strong yet flexible. This made elm wood ideal for various uses, including the construction of boats, furniture, and even houses. Elm wood is also gorgeous, with a rich grain often used in decorative woodworking.
Elm trees have a long history in North America. The American elm was once one of the most common trees in the eastern United States, and it was a popular choice for planting in cities and towns. However, the American elm has been devastated by Dutch elm disease, a deadly fungus spread by a type of beetle. As a result, this once-common tree is now quite rare.
On the other hand, the European elm has not been affected by the Dutch elm disease. This species is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and it was introduced to North America in the 1700s. European elms are now common in many parts of the United States.
Native to China and Japan, Chinese elms were introduced to North America in the 1700s. These trees are now common in the southeastern United States.
There are many other elm tree species besides the three mentioned above. There are so many other elms that it can be hard to keep them all straight. To help you out, we've put together an identification guide for 14 different types of elm trees.
Exciting Facts about Elm Tree
Did you know that the United States' founding fathers considered the elm tree a symbol of strength and resilience? George Washington planted an elm tree at his Mount Vernon estate. Today, elm trees are still prized for their strength, durability, and beautiful symmetry. Here are some more fascinating facts about these fantastic trees:
- The scientific name for the elm tree is Ulmus procera. The word "Ulmus" comes from the Latin word for "elm," while "Procera" means "tall."
- Elm trees can live for hundreds of years. The oldest recorded elm tree was an English elm estimated to be over 1,000 years old!
- Elm trees are native to Europe, Asia, and North America. In North America, they are most common in the eastern United States.
- Elm trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the fall. However, not all species of elm tree are deciduous-some, like the Chinese elm, are evergreen.
- Elms are notorious for being tough to grow in urban areas.
The Bark of the Elm Tree
The elm tree's bark is rough to the touch, with a deep red hue that is almost black. It is thick and corky, making it very resistant to fire. The inner bark is also used to make herbal tea with medicinal properties. The outer bark can create a strong rope or even blankets and mats. In short, the elm tree's bark is one of its most versatile and valuable assets.
Elm Tree Leaves
Fall is in the air, and that means it's time to start raking up piles of leaves. But before you add them to your compost pile, you may want to look at those leaves—specifically, the leaves of the elm tree. Elm leaves are small and oval-shaped, with a pointed tip and serrated edges. They're dark green, and they have a distinctive veiny appearance.
Elm trees are found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. And while they're most commonly associated with the American elm tree, there are several different species of the elm tree. So if you find yourself with a pile of elm leaves this fall, don't just toss them out. Take a moment to appreciate their unique beauty.
Elm Tree Seeds
The elm tree is a remarkable plant, and its seeds are no less impressive. Each seed is enclosed in a hard casing that protects it from the elements. When the time is right, the shell splits open, and the seed is ready to sprout. But that's not all—the elm tree has another trick up its sleeve. The tree will produce a second, smaller batch of seeds under favorable conditions.
These "renewal" seeds are stored in specialized sacks near the tree's base. If the main cluster of seeds fails to germinate, or if predators eat them, the renewal seeds will take their place. Because of this, the elm tree is one of the most successful plants globally and has a fantastic ability to make sure it stays alive.
Lore and Myths of Elm Tree
The elm tree has been around for centuries, and it has long been associated with strength and durability. "Elm" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for "strong." But the elm is also steeped in lore and myths. According to one legend, the elm was once a proud and noble tree, but it was brought low by a snake that wrapped itself around its trunk.
Another legend tells of a mysterious creature known as the "Elm-Chewer" who gnaws on the tree's roots, causing it to wither and die. Whatever the truth may be, there is no denying that the elm tree has a rich history and cultural significance.
Other Symbolisms of Elm Tree
The elm tree has been a symbol of strength and endurance for centuries. In the United States, it is the state tree of North Carolina, Indiana, and Utah. The elm is also the symbol of New Orleans, where it is commonly referred to as the "Water Elm." This is fitting, as the elm is known for its ability to withstand flooding and droughts. In China, the elm is considered a symbol of good luck, and it is often planted in front of homes and businesses.
The elm tree has also been used as a symbol of mourning. In the 19th century, it was typical for grieving families to plant an elm tree in memory of their loved ones. Today, the elm tree continues to be a popular choice for memorials and tributes. Whatever the symbolism, the elm tree is a beautiful and resilient species that cultures worldwide have revered for centuries.
How to Identify Elm Tree?
When it comes to trees, there are many different types of trees. But if you're looking for an elm tree, there are a few things you can look for. One is the bark. Elm tree bark is usually dark brown or reddish-brown. Another thing you can look at is the height of the tree. Elm trees can grow quite tall, so it's more likely to be an elm if you see a taller tree.
The leaves of an elm tree are also a definite identifying factor. They're usually oblong or oval in shape and have serrated edges. Finally, you can also take a look at the tree's trunk. Elm trees tend to have wider trunks than other types of trees. So if you see a tree with a wide trunk, it's more likely to be an elm. Next time you're trying to identify an elm tree, keep these things in mind.
Types of Elm Trees
Now that you know more about the elm tree let's look at different types.
American Elm Tree (Ulmus americana)
The American elm tree is a popular choice for planting in urban areas due to its ability to withstand various environmental stresses. However, it can be challenging to identify an American elm tree, as it can be confused with other similar species. Here are some key characteristics to look for:
- The American elm tree has a straight trunk with smooth, gray bark and can grow up to 80–100 ft (24–30 m) high.
- The branches grow upward at a sharp angle, creating a V-shaped canopy.
- The leaves are oval-shaped and have sharp teeth along the edges; they are dark green and turn yellow in the fall.
- The American elm tree also produces tiny, greenish-brown seeds with a thin, papery wing.
With these features in mind, you should be able to identify an American elm tree quickly. So next time you're out for a walk in the park, keep your eyes peeled for this unique species.
Cherry Bark Elm Tree (Ulmus villosa)
If you're ever out on a walk and wondering, "Is that a cherry bark elm or a marn elm tree?" - don't worry, you're not alone. It can be tricky to identify this particular tree while it is the same height as the American elm, but there are a few things you can look for. For starters, the bark of a cherry bark elm tree is dark brown or reddish-brown.
The leaves are alternate, simple, and have an oblong or oval shape. They're also serrated, which means they have tiny teeth along the edges. Another way to identify this tree is by its fruit. The fruit is a small, dry, winged seed that hangs from the branches in clusters. If you see a tree with these characteristics, you've found a cherry bark elm tree.
Cedar Elm Tree (Ulmus crassifolia)
Cedar elms are native to the Southern United States, and they get their name from the cedar-like smell of their leaves. They're also known as "lacebark elms" because of the unique way their bark peels off in thin layers. If you're trying to identify a cedar elm, here are a few things to look for:
- The leaves are alternate and simple, with a serrated margin. They're dark green on top and light green on the bottom, and they have a strong cedar scent when crushed.
- The bark is light gray or brown, and it peels off in thin layers, and the tree grows 50–70 ft (15–21 m) long.
- The twigs are slender and covered in small hairs.
- The flowers are small and greenish-white, blooming in late winter or early spring.
- The fruit is a small, winged seed, typically borne in pairs.
If you see a tree that fits this description, there's a good chance it's a cedar elm. However, a few other trees can be mistaken for cedar elms, so it's always best to consult with an expert before making a final identification.
Camperdown Elm Tree (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’)
If you're looking for a Camperdown elm tree, looking up is the best place to start. These trees are distinguished by their weeping habit, which gives them a drooping appearance. The Camperdown elm is a cultivar of the Scottish Wych elm and was introduced in 1835 by forester David Taylor. The tree was named after the Earl of Camperdown, the commander of the British force at the Battle of Waterloo.
The Camperdown elm is a hardy tree that can tolerate various conditions, but it prefers moist, well-drained soil. It is also reasonably tolerant of salt spray, making it a good choice for seaside locations. The Camperdown elm can reach 20-30 ft (6-9 m) and has dark green leaves with double-serrated margins. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow before they drop off the tree. If you're looking for a distinctive weeping tree for your landscape, the Camperdown elm is a great choice.
Chinese Elm Tree (Ulmus parvifolia)
The Chinese elm tree, also known as Ulmus parvifolia, is a type of elm tree native to East Asia. It is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 80 ft (24 m) tall, although it is most often seen at 40-50 ft (12-15 m), making it an excellent parking lot, shade, specimen, or street tree. The leaves of the Chinese elm tree are alternately arranged and are straightforward with double-serrate margins.
The leaf blade is ovate to oblong-ovate in shape and is 6–12 cm (2.5–5") long and 3-6 cm (1.25–2.5") wide. The leaves of the Chinese elm tree turn yellow in autumn before they fall off. The tree's twigs are zigzag in shape and are greenish-brown in color. The bark of the Chinese elm tree is dark brown or grey and is smooth with a corky texture. The fruit of the Chinese elm tree is a small, oval-shaped samara that is 2-3 cm (0.75-1.15") long and 1 cm (0.4") wide.
The Chinese elm tree is widely cultivated as an ornamental in parks and gardens. It is also used as a street or shade tree for coffee shops and restaurants. The wood of the Chinese elm tree is hard and durable, making it an ideal material for furniture making, cabinet making, and woodworking.
English Elm Tree (Ulmus procera, Ulmus minor 'Atinia')
The English elm tree (Ulmus procera, Ulmus minor 'Atinia') is a large deciduous tree native to Italy that can grow up to 130 ft (40 m) tall. It has an oblong-shaped crown and spreading branches. The leaves are dark green and have a leathery texture. They are arranged alternately on the stem and are oval-shaped with serrated edges. The flowers are small and reddish-purple. They bloom in the springtime and are followed by round fruits that turn yellow when ripe.
To identify an English elm tree, look for its large size and oblong crown. Also, look for its dark green leaves with serrated edges. In the springtime, you will see its small reddish-purple flowers. Finally, look for its round fruits that turn yellow when ripe. You have found an English elm tree if you see all of these characteristics.
David Elm Tree (Ulmus davidiana)
Native to Eastern Asia, this elm tree can grow up to 50 ft (15 m) with a slender trunk. David elm trees (Ulmus davidiana) are easily recognized by their distinctive leaves. The leaves are alternate, simple, and oblong-shaped with serrated edges. They are dark green in color with a yellow-green underside.
The leaves typically measure 10-20 cm (4-8") in length and 5-7.5 cm (2-3") in width. The trees produce small, greenish-yellow flowers that grow in clusters in the spring. The flowers are followed by oval-shaped seed pods that mature to a brown color. They tolerate various soil conditions and prefer full sun to partial shade.
Slippery Elm Tree (Ulmus rubra)
There are few North American native trees as distinctive as the slippery elm. Also known as the red elm, this tree is easily recognizable by its reddish-brown bark, which is smooth and shiny. The slippery elm leaves are also unique, featuring a leathery texture and a slightly wavy edge. In addition, the 70 ft (21 m) high slippery elm produces small, round fruits that are green when they first appear and turn brown when they mature.
One of the best ways to identify a slippery elm tree is by its buds. The buds of this tree are larger than most other types of elm trees, and they have a soft, downy texture. The buds are also arranged in pairs, with each pair being separated by a thin membrane. This distinguishing feature can help you quickly identify a slippery elm tree, even when it is not in bloom.
European White Elm Tree (Ulmus laevis Pall.)
European white elm is a large tree reaching 100-115 ft (30-35 m). It has a rounded crown and a trunk, usually about 6.5 ft (2 m) in diameter. The bark is gray-brown and smooth, with distinctive corky ridges. Usually, the leaves are alternate, simple, and elliptical, with a pointed tip and serrated edges. They are dark green on the top and paler beneath, with a hairy central vein.
The flowers are small and greenish-white, borne in clusters of 3-5. Generally, the fruit is a flat, oval seed encased in a papery wing. European white elm can be found throughout Europe, including the UK, France, Italy, and Spain. It is also widely planted as an ornamental tree in North America.
Dutch Elm Tree (Ulmus hollandica)
The 130 ft (40 m) Dutch elm tree is a unique and beautiful sight. This elm is a natural hybrid of field elm Ulmus minor and Wych elm Ulmus glabra that grows across Europe, where the ranges of the parent species intersect. But how can you tell if the tree in your yard is a Dutch elm? Here are a few key characteristics to look for:
- The Dutch elm has a distinctive vase-shaped form, with branches that flare out at the base and then taper upwards.
- The bark is dark brown or black and deeply furrowed.
- The leaves are simple and ovate, with a serrated margin and a hairy surface. Usually, the flowers are small and greenish-yellow, appearing in clusters in early spring.
- The fruit is a small oval samara that hangs from the branches in late summer or fall.
If you see a tree that matches this description, there's a good chance you've found a Dutch elm.
Rock Elm Tree (Ulmus thomasii)
The rock elm tree is one of the most easily identified trees in North America. It is a medium-to-large-sized tree that can grow up to 100 ft (30 m) tall. This elm tree has a spreading canopy with drooping branches. The leaves are oval-shaped and have a serrated edge. The bark is gray or brown and is rough-textured.
The rock elm tree is native to the midwestern United States and Canada. It prefers to grow in moist, well-drained soils. The rock elm tree is an important food source for many animals, including squirrels, deer, and birds. It is also used as a nesting site for many bird species.
Siberian Elm Tree (Ulmus pumila)
To the untrained eye, all trees may look alike. However, there are many different types of trees, each with its unique characteristics. The Siberian elm, also known as the Asiatic elm tree, is one such tree with a 50–70 ft (15–22 m) height. In contrast, it may look similar to other elm trees. There are several ways to identify a Siberian elm tree. The Siberian elm tree has small, dark green leaves with a pointed tip.
The leaves are arranged alternately on the branch and typically measure between 5-10 cm (2-4") long. The branches of the Siberian elm tree are also relatively flexible, which helps the tree withstand strong winds. In addition, the Siberian elm tree has a shallow root system, which allows it to tolerate drought conditions. Because of these unique traits, the Siberian elm tree grows naturally from central Asia to Siberia, which means it can do well in many different places.
Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra)
The Wych elm is a medium-to-large-sized tree that can grow up to 110 ft (30 m) tall. The bark is grey-brown and deeply fissured, and the twigs are stout and hairy. The leaves are ovate with a sharp point at the apex, and they are arranged in opposite pairs on the stem. The leaves are dark green with a paler underside and serrated margins.
The flowers of the wych elm are small and brown, and they are borne in clusters of 10-20. The fruit is a small, oval-shaped samara that is dark brown. Wych elm can be found in woods, hedgerows, and parklands across Europe and Asia.
Winged elm tree (Ulmus alata)
Suppose you're looking for a surefire way to identify a 30–50 ft (10–15 m) tall North American native winged elm tree. In that case, there's only one foolproof method: wait for it to fly away. Just kidding! Although the winged elm gets its name from the distinctive corky wings that run along its branches, this tree is firmly rooted in the ground. Here are a few other characteristics that can help you identify a winged elm tree:
- The winged elm is a deciduous tree, which means it loses its leaves in the fall. One of the easiest ways to identify this tree is its unique, asymmetrical leaves. Winged elm leaves are broad and have a slightly serrated edge. They are dark green on top and light green on the bottom, with a hairy surface and distinctive veins that radiate out from the leaf's center.
- Another easy way to identify a winged elm is its fruit, sometimes called a "samara." Samaras are oval-shaped seeds that are surrounded by a thin, papery wing. Samaras typically mature in the late spring or early summer. They are often used as a food source by birds and other animals.
So, the next time you see a tree with wing-like structures on its branches, don't be alarmed! It's just a winged elm, and it's not going anywhere.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although there are many different elm trees, most of them share some common characteristics. Here are a few frequently asked questions about elm trees to help you learn more about these fascinating plants.
Are Elm Trees Dangerous?
As a result, the leaves will eventually turn brown and drop off. While Dutch elm disease can be devastating to an individual tree, it is not a threat to human health. The fungus is only harmful to elm trees, and there is no evidence that it can be transmitted to other plants or animals. So while elm trees may not be ideal for a garden, there is no need to worry about them causing any harm.
What Are Elm Trees Good For?
Elm trees are suitable for all sorts of things. They can provide shade on a hot summer day, act as a windbreak on a windy day, and even help reduce noise pollution. In addition, elm trees are relatively easy to care for, and they're tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions. So if you're looking for a tree that's good for just about anything, an elm tree is the way to go.
What Is The Lifespan Of An Elm Tree?
But even though the elm tree's lifespan is relatively long, it still manages to pack much life into those 300 years. In that time, it can grow to be over 100 ft (30 m) tall and provide shade and shelter for all kinds of animals. So even though it doesn't stick around for very long, the elm tree makes a significant impact while standing.
Elm trees come in all shapes and sizes, making them popular for American landscapers. While they may be easy to identify by their leaves, elm trees can be tricky to tell apart if you're not familiar with their unique features. With this guide, you should quickly identify any type of elm tree. Whether you are a nature lover or just looking for a new tree to add to your backyard, elm trees are worth considering.