see it clearly
Elm Tree
Leaf Shape Oval with an asymmetrical base
Mature Height 70 to 115 feet
Best Habitat Rich, well-drained soil and full sun
Best Climate Cool and dry
Output Small, green flowers
Uses Furniture, shade, medicine

Elm Tree

When it comes to stateliness and grandeur the Elm tree is second to none. The magnificent topiary, known for its all-encompassing canopy and massive maze of interwoven dropping branches, is one of the most popular trees on earth. Whether it's shade or beauty you are after, the Elm tree has you covered.

Appearance of the Tree

Elm Tree Leaf
Elm Tree Leaf

The Elm is a deciduous tree that's hard to miss. Some species can grow as high as 115 feet tall with leaf canopies that stretch out as far as 80 feet wide. In addition to its impressive size, the Elm has a number of other noteworthy characteristics, including:

  • Bark: The Elm tree's bark features a unique grayish blue color that turns ash gray as it ages. The surface of the bark is also eye-catching with its thick, uneven creases and intersecting ridges.
  • Leaves:The leaves of the Elm tree are oval with asymmetrical bases and serrated edges. The underside of the leaf features baby fine hairs while the top side showcases 15 pairs of branching veins. The leaves are dark green in the spring and summer, but turn deep yellow or chartreuse in autumn.
  • Flowers: Elm trees produce dense clusters of tiny, green blossoms which emerge from reddish brown buds. Depending on the type of Elm, the buds can feature an almost black hue.

Along with its trademark characteristics, the Elm is also known for its hardiness and longevity. Some mature Elms have survived for more than 300 years.

Elm Tree Blossom
Elm Tree Blossom
Elm Tree Branches
Elm Tree Branches
Elm Tree Trunk
Elm Tree Trunk

Elm Tree Types

Chinese Elm Bonsai
Chinese Elm Bonsai

The Elm is part of the Ulmus genus and features more than 40 different species. Among the most popular types are:

  • American Elm: Also known as White Elm, Water Elm, Soft Elm, or Florida Elm, the tree is an American icon. Its amazing ability to withstand urban pollution makes it a familiar sight in major metropolitan areas. The vase-shape of the tree also allows it to grow over power lines with little to no interference. What's more, its spectacular fall foliage is a real treat for city dwellers.
  • Chinese Elm Bonsai: This dwarf tree is a treasure for bonsai beginners. The tree is ideal for amateur pruners, as it doesn't have a dormant period. In addition, the ornamental tree is easy to grow and can tolerate an array of growing conditions.
  • Cedar Elm: The Cedar Elm is prized for its rounded canopy of branches and small green leaves. It thrives in moist soil and with proper care can grow to 80 feet. The Cedar Elm is also known for its gorgeous fall foliage and delicate flowers.
  • Siberian Elm: Reaching heights of 60 feet tall, the Siberian Elm is a popular windbreaker. It features dark green foliage which changes to yellow-brown in the fall. The Siberian Elm grows best in cool, dry conditions.

Most types of Elm trees age well and can survive hundreds of years. The typical Elm can live to be at least 200 years with some exceeding the 600 year mark.

Other popular Elm trees include:

  • English Elm
  • Slippery Elm
  • September Elm
  • Rock Elm
  • Winged Elm
  • Wych Elm
  • Dutch Elm

Depending on the type of Elm, the tree's wood is decay resistant when wet.

The Many Looks of the Elm Tree

Elm Tree Bark

Elm Tree Bark

Elm Tree Flower

Elm Tree Flower

Elm Tree in Spring

Elm Tree in Spring

Elm Tree in Fall

Elm Tree in Fall

Elm Tree in Winter

Elm Tree in Winter

Oak Tree in Winter

Elm Tree Sunset

Example Frame

Where the Elm Grows

Elm trees grow and proper in various parts of the world, including:

  • China
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Siberia
  • England
  • Canada
  • Texas
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Utah
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi

In most areas Elms are cultivated as shade trees. They thrive in moist soil and full sunlight and reach their greatest potential in environments that don't experience extreme heat or cold. In addition, they are quite tolerant of soils with differing pH levels.


Popular Uses

Given its tremendous size, it's not surprising that the Elm's wood is so highly esteemed. Timber from the tree is used to make:

Elm Wood
Elm Tree Wood
  • Boats
  • Docks
  • Coffins
  • Furniture
  • Floors
  • Chairs
  • Doors
  • Wagon wheel hubs

In addition, the inner bark of the Elm is often used for medicinal purposes. Centuries ago, Elm bark was heated and used to cure sore throats and sinus infections. Today, oils from the tree's bark are extracted and featured in cough medicine.

Interesting Facts

The Elm may be one of the most well-known trees on the planet, but not very many people realize that the perennial has an interesting past. Some intriguing facts about the Elm include:

  • The first Elm tree sprouted up more than 20 million years ago during the Miocene period.
  • The American Elm's nickname is "Lady in the Forest."
    The cooling effect of one Elm tree planted in an urban environment is equivalent to five air conditioning units.
  • The Iroquois used to live off Elm trees. In addition to making canoes, ropes and utensils from the tree's wood, they would also use the bark to fuel fires and craft clothing.
  • Norwegians survived on Elm bark strips during the famine of 1812. Residents would cut the bark into strips and boil them before consuming it and the tree's seeds.

People in Ancient Greece also coveted Elm wood to manufacture chariots, while the Romans used the trees to support vines in burgeoning vineyards.

Elm Diseases

Healthy Elm Tree in Spring
Healthy Elm Tree in Spring

When it comes to Elm tree diseases, none compare to the damage ravaged by Dutch Elm disease. The fungus nearly wiped out an entire population of American Elm trees in the 1960s. The devastating infection is spread by the Elm bark beetle or by root grafting. Once the fungus attacks the tree it causes it to wilt and eventually die.

Other common Elm diseases include:

  • Cankers: This unattractive fungal disease presents itself as reddish-brown to black cankers which form on the Elm's branches.  
  • Elm Leaf Black Spot: This is another fungal disease which attacks the leaves of an Elm tree. Yellow spots form on the topsides of the Elm's leaves and are followed by raised black bodies.
  • Verticillium Wilt: This soil-based fungus penetrates the root system of the Elm and can eventually spread throughout the tree.

Elm Care

In order to protect your tree from Dutch Elm disease or other ailments, it pays to consider the following growing tips:

Mature Elm Tree
  • Do not fertilize your Elm more than twice a year.
  • Never prune an Elm between mid-April to late-July; rather, save your pruning for early spring to avoid exposing the tree's limbs to fungal spores.
  • Take care when mowing around an Elm tree as the bark can chip.
  • Water your Elm regularly as the tree needs proper moisture to grow.

Finally, it's a good idea to regularly check your Elm's leaves for disease and dehydration. You can learn a lot about your Elm by examining the trees planted next to it. Often Maples and other trees show signs of distress earlier than Elms, which should serve as an early warning signal.