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Ulmus americana

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Title: Ulmus americana  
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Subject: North Lawn (White House), Lanesborough, Massachusetts, Nichols Arboretum, Ulmus americana 'Augustine', Ulmus americana 'Burgoyne'
Collection: Flora of Michigan, Flora of Montana, Flora of the Appalachian Mountains, Flora of Virginia, Flora of Wyoming, Garden Plants of North America, Ornamental Trees, Plants Described in 1753, Trees of Alabama, Trees of Arkansas, Trees of Canada, Trees of Delaware, Trees of Eastern Canada, Trees of Florida, Trees of Humid Continental Climate, Trees of Kansas, Trees of Kentucky, Trees of Louisiana, Trees of Manitoba, Trees of Maryland, Trees of Massachusetts, Trees of Michigan, Trees of Mild Maritime Climate, Trees of Missouri, Trees of New Brunswick, Trees of North Carolina, Trees of Ontario, Trees of Quebec, Trees of Rhode Island, Trees of Saskatchewan, Trees of South Carolina, Trees of Tennessee, Trees of Texas, Trees of the Eastern United States, Trees of the Great Lakes Region (North America), Trees of the North-Central United States, Trees of the Northeastern United States, Trees of the Plains-Midwest (United States), Trees of the South-Central United States, Trees of the Southeastern United States, Trees of the United States, Trees of Washington, D.C., Trees of West Virginia, Ulmaceae
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Ulmus americana

Ulmus americana"
Ulmus americana (American elm) at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

Secure  (NatureServe)[1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Ulmaceae
Genus: Ulmus
Species: U. americana
Binomial name
Ulmus americana
  • Ulmus alba Raf. (non Kit.)
  • Ulmus americana Planch.
  • Ulmus americana L. f. alba (Aiton) Fern.
  • Ulmus americana L. f. americana
  • Ulmus americana L. f. ascendens Slavin
  • Ulmus americana L. f. columnaris Rehd.
  • Ulmus americana L. f. intercedens Fern.
  • Ulmus americana L. f. laevior Fern.
  • Ulmus americana L. f. pendula (Aiton) Fern.
  • Ulmus americana L. f. viridis Seym.
  • Ulmus americana L. var. alba Aiton
  • Ulmus americana L. var. americana
  • Ulmus americana L. var. aspera Chapm.
  • Ulmus americana L. var. aurea Temple
  • Ulmus americana L. var. bartramii Planch.
  • Ulmus americana L. var. floridana (Chapm.) Little
  • Ulmus americana L. var. glabra Planch.
  • Ulmus americana L. var. pendula Aiton
  • Ulmus americana L. var. scabra Spach
  • Ulmus dentata Raf.
  • Ulmus floridana Chapm.
  • Ulmus mollifolia Marshall
  • Ulmus obovata Raf.
  • Ulmus pendula Willd.
  • Ulmus pubescens Walter

Ulmus americana, generally known as the American elm or, less commonly, as the white elm or water elm,[1] is a species native to eastern North America, occurring from Nova Scotia west to Alberta and Montana, and south to Florida and central Texas. The American elm is an extremely hardy tree that can withstand winter temperatures as low as −42 °C (−44 °F). Trees in areas unaffected by Dutch elm disease can live for several hundred years. A prime example of the species was the Sauble Elm,[2] which grew beside the banks of the Sauble River in Ontario, Canada, to a height of 43 m (140 ft), with a d.b.h of 196 cm (6.43 ft) before succumbing to Dutch elm disease; when it was felled in 1968, a tree-ring count established that it had germinated in 1701.

For over 80 years, U. americana has been identified as a tetraploid, i.e. having double the usual number of chromosomes, making it unique within the genus. However, a recent study by the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture has found that about 20% of wild American elms are in fact diploid, and may even constitute another species.[3][4]


  • Classification 1
  • Description 2
  • Ecology 3
  • Pests and diseases 4
    • Dutch elm disease 4.1
  • Cultivation 5
    • Cultivars 5.1
    • Hybrids and hybrid cultivars 5.2
  • Other uses 6
    • Wood 6.1
    • Pioneer and traditional uses 6.2
  • Notable trees 7
    • National champions 7.1
    • The Buckley Elm 7.2
    • The Treaty Elm (Pennsylvania) 7.3
    • The Washington Elm (Massachusetts) 7.4
    • The Liberty Tree (Massachusetts) 7.5
    • George Washington's Elm (District of Columbia) 7.6
    • The Logan Elm (Ohio) 7.7
    • "Herbie" (Maine) 7.8
    • The Survivor Tree 7.9
  • Ulmus americana in photography 8
  • See also 9
  • Accessions 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


Ulmus americana was first described and named by Carl Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum, published in 1753. No subspecies or varieties are currently recognized within the species.


U. americana, Dufferin Street, Toronto, c.1914

The American elm is a deciduous hermaphroditic tree which, before the introduction of Dutch elm disease, commonly grew to > 30 m (100 ft) tall with a trunk > 1.2 m (4 ft) d.b.h supporting a high, spreading umbrella-like canopy. The leaves are alternate, 7–20 cm long, with double-serrate margins and an oblique base. The perfect flowers are small, purple-brown and, being wind-pollinated, apetalous. The flowers are also protogynous, the female parts maturing before the male, thus reducing, but not eliminating, self-fertilization,[5] and emerge in early spring before the leaves. The fruit is a flat samara 2 cm long by 1.5 cm broad, with a circular papery wing surrounding the single 4–5 mm seed. As in the closely related European White Elm Ulmus laevis, the flowers and seeds are borne on 1–3 cm long stems. American Elm is wholly insensitive to daylight length (photoperiod), and will continue to grow well into autumn until injured by frost.[6] Ploidy (2n = 56, or 2n = 28).[7]


The American elm occurs naturally in an assortment of habitats, most notably rich bottomlands, floodplains, stream banks, and swampy ground, although it also often thrives on hillsides, uplands and other well-drained soils.[8] On more elevated terrain, as in the Appalachian Mountains, it is most often found along rivers.[9] The species' wind-dispersed seeds enable it to spread rapidly as suitable areas of habitat become available.[8] American elm produces its seed crop in late spring (which can be as early as February and as late as June depending on the climate) and the seeds usually germinate right away with no cold stratification needed (occasionally some might remain dormant until the following year). The species attains its greatest growth potential in the Northeastern US, while elms in the Deep South and Texas grow much smaller and have shorter lifespans, although conversely their survival rate in the latter regions is higher due to the climate being unfavorable for the spread of DED.

In the United States, the American elm is a major member of four major forest cover types: black ash-American elm-red maple; silver maple-American elm; sugarberry-American elm-green ash; and sycamore-sweetgum-American elm, with the first two of these types also occurring in Canada.[10] A sugar maple-ironwood-American elm cover type occurs on some hilltops near Témiscaming, Quebec.[11]

The leaves of the American elm serve as food for the larvae of various lepidopterans (butterflies & moths).

Pests and diseases

The American elm is highly susceptible to Dutch elm disease (DED) and elm yellows; it is also moderately preferred for feeding and reproduction by the adult elm leaf beetle Xanthogaleruca luteola,[12] and highly preferred for feeding by the Japanese beetle Popillia japonica[13] in the USA. Trees grown in Europe have proven very susceptible to damage by leaf-feeding insects in general, far more so than native or Asiatic elms.[14]

U. americana is also the most susceptible of all the elms to verticillium wilt,[15] whose external symptoms closely mimic those of DED. However, the condition is far less serious, and the tree should recover the following year.

Dutch elm disease

Dutch elm disease (DED) is a fungal disease which has ravaged the American elm, causing catastrophic die-offs in cities across the range. It has been estimated that only approximately 1 in 100,000 American elm trees is DED-tolerant, most known survivors simply having escaped exposure to the disease.[16] However, in some areas still not populated by the Dutch elm disease-carrying elm bark beetle, the American elm continues to thrive, notably in Florida, most of Alberta and British Columbia.

The American elm is particularly susceptible to disease because the period of infection often coincides with the period, approximately 30 days, of rapid terminal growth when new springwood vessels are fully functional. Spores introduced outside of this period remain largely static within the xylem and are thus relatively ineffective.[17]

The American elm's biology in some ways has helped to spare it from obliteration by the Dutch elm disease, in contrast to what happened to the American chestnut with the chestnut blight. The elm's seeds are largely wind-dispersed, and the tree grows quickly and begins bearing seeds at a young age. It grows well along roads or railroad tracks, and in abandoned lots and other disturbed areas, where it is highly tolerant of most stress factors. Elms have been able to survive and to reproduce in areas where the disease had eliminated old trees, although most of these young elms eventually succumb to the disease at a relatively young age. There is some reason to hope that these elms will preserve the genetic diversity of the original population, and that they eventually will hybridize with DED-resistant varieties that have been developed or that occur naturally. After 20 years of research, American scientists first developed DED-resistant strains of elms in the late 1990s.[16]

Fungicidal injections can be administered to valuable American elms, to prevent infection. Such injections generally are effective as a preventive measure for up to three years when performed before any symptoms have appeared, but may be ineffective once the disease is evident.


In the 19th and early 20th century, American elm was a common street and park tree due to its tolerance of urban conditions, rapid growth, and graceful form. This however led to extreme overplanting of the species, especially to form living archways over streets, which ultimately produced an unhealthy monoculture of elms that had no resistance to disease and pests.[18] These trees' rapid growth and longevity, leading to great size within decades, also favor its horticultural use.[8] Ohio botanist William B. Werthner, discussing the contrast between open-grown and forest-grown American elms, noted that:

In the open, with an abundance of air and light, the main trunk divides into several leading branches which leave the trunk at a sharp angle and continue to grow upward, gradually diverging, dividing and subdividing into long, flexible branchlets whose ends, at last, float lightly in the air, giving the tree a round, somewhat flattened top of beautifully regular proportions and characteristically fine twiggery.[8]
It is this distinctive growth form that is so valued in the open-grown American elms of street plantings, lawns, and parks; along most narrower streets, elms planted on opposite sides arch and blend together into a leafy canopy over the pavement. However, elms can assume many different sizes and forms depending on the location and climate zone, and the classic vase-like shape is far from the norm in naturally-occurring (as opposed to cultivated) specimens.

American elms have been planted in North America beyond its natural range as far north as central Alberta, and south to Lake Worth, Florida. It also survives low desert heat at Phoenix, Arizona.

Introductions across the Atlantic rarely prospered, even before the outbreak of Dutch elm disease. Introduced to the UK in 1752, it was noted that the foliage of the American elm was far more susceptible to insect damage than native elms.[14] A few, mostly young, specimens survive in British arboreta. Introduced to Australasia, the tree was listed by nurseries in Australia in the early 20th century, and is known to have been planted along the Avenue of Honour at Ballarat and the Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour. It is only rarely found in New Zealand.[19]


See the list of Elm cultivars, hybrids and hybrid cultivars for more details.

Numerous cultivars have been raised, originally for their aesthetic merit but more recently for their resistance to Dutch elm disease[20] The total number of named cultivars is circa 45, at least 18 of which have probably been lost to cultivation as a consequence of Dutch elm disease or other factors:

The National Elm Trial, begun in 2005, is currently evaluating 19 hybrid and species cultivars in scientific plantings across the United States to better assess their strengths and weaknesses.

The few disease-resistant selections made available to the public as yet include Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House and to date are healthy and thriving. Introduced to the UK in 2001, 'Princeton' was planted by HRH The Prince of Wales to form the Anniversary Avenue from the Orchard Room reception centre to the Golden Bird statue at Highgrove House, however the trees succumbed to DED five years later and were felled and burned. In 2007, the 'Elm Recovery Project'[22] from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, reported that cuttings from healthy surviving old elms surveyed across Ontario had been grown to produce a bank of resistant trees, isolated for selective breeding of highly resistant cultivars.[23]

Hybrids and hybrid cultivars

Thousands of attempts to cross the American elm with the Siberian elm U. pumila failed.[24] Attempts at the Arnold Arboretum using ten other American, European and Asiatic species also ended in failure, attributed to the differences in ploidy levels, and operational dichogamy,[5] although the ploidy factor has been discounted by other authorities.[25]

Success was finally achieved with the autumn-flowering Chinese elm Ulmus parvifolia by the late Prof. Eugene Smalley towards the end of his career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after he overcame the problem of keeping Chinese elm pollen alive until spring.[26] Only one of the hybrid clones was commercially released, as 'Rebella' in 2011 by the German nursery Eisele GmbH; the clone is not available in the USA.

Other artificial hybridizations with American elm are rare, and now regarded with suspicion. Two such alleged successes by the nursery trade were 'Hamburg', and 'Kansas Hybrid', both with Siberian elm Ulmus pumila. However, given the repeated failure with the two species by research institutions, it is now believed that the "American elm" in question was more likely to have been the red elm, Ulmus rubra.[27]

Other uses


The American elm's wood is coarse, hard, and tough, with interlacing, contorted fibers that make it difficult to split or chop, and cause it to warp after sawing.[8] Accordingly, the wood originally had few uses, save for making hubs for wagon wheels.[8] Later, with the advent of mechanical sawing, American elm wood was used for barrel staves, trunk-slats, and hoop-poles, and subsequently became fundamental to the manufacture of wooden automobile bodies, with the intricate fibers holding screws unusually well.[8]

Pioneer and traditional uses

Young twigs and branchlets of the American elm have tough, fibrous bark that has been used as a tying and binding material, even for rope swings for children, and also for making whips.[8]

Notable trees

The Old Elm, Benjamin Abbott Farmhouse, Andover, Massachusetts

A fair number of mostly small to medium-sized American elms survive nowadays in woodlands, suburban areas, and occasionally cities, where most often the survivors had been relatively isolated from other elms and thus spared a severe exposure to the fungus. For example, in Central Park and Tompkins Square Park in New York City,[28] stands of several large elms originally planted by Frederick Law Olmsted survive because of their isolation from neighboring areas in New York where there had been heavy mortality. The Olmsted-designed park system in Buffalo, NY [29] did not fare as well. A row of mature American elms graces Central Park along the entire length of Fifth Avenue from 110th St to 59th.[30] In Akron, Ohio there is a very old elm tree that has not been infected. In historical areas of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there are also a few mature American elms still standing — notably in Independence Square and the Quadrangle at the University of Pennsylvania, and also at the nearby campuses of Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and The Pennsylvania State University, believed to be the largest remaining stand in the country.[31] There are several large American Elm trees in western Massachusetts. The large Massachusetts Champion Elm stands on Summer Street in the Berkshire County town of Lanesborough, Massachusetts has been kept alive by antifungal treatments. Rutgers University has preserved 55 mature elms on and in the vicinity of Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey in addition to seven disease-resistant trees that have been planted in this area of the campus in recent years.[32]

The largest surviving urban forest of American elms in North America is believed to be in the city of Winnipeg, Canada, where close to 200,000 elms remain. The city of Winnipeg spends $3M annually to aggressively combat the disease utilizing Dursban Turf[33] and the Dutch Trig vaccine,[34] losing 1500-4000 trees per year.

National champions

The USA national champion, measuring 34 metres (112 ft) high in 2010, stands at Iberville, Louisiana.[35] Across the Atlantic, the TROBI champion grows at Avondale in Wicklow, Ireland; last measured in 2000, it was 22.5 metres (74 ft) high by 98 cm 98 centimetres (39 in) diameter at breast height.

The following are among the best-known of these huge historical American elms; for more examples, see the longer list in the article on the elm genus (Ulmus).

The Buckley Elm

Until 2001, the National Champion, standing in a field in Michigan, estimated to be as high as an 11 story building, and with a trunk 8 ft in diameter. Killed by Dutch elm disease in 2001.[36]

The Treaty Elm (Pennsylvania)

The Treaty Elm, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In what is now Penn Treaty Park, the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, is said to have entered into a treaty of peace in 1683 with the native Lenape Turtle Clan under a picturesque elm tree immortalized in a painting by Benjamin West. West made the tree, already a local landmark, famous by incorporating it into his painting after hearing legends (of unknown veracity) about the tree being the location of the treaty. No documentary evidence exists of any treaty Penn signed beneath a particular tree. On March 6, 1810 a great storm blew the tree down. Measurements taken at the time showed it to have a circumference of 24 feet (7.3 m), and its age was estimated to be 280 years. Wood from the tree was made into furniture, canes, walking sticks and various trinkets that Philadelphians kept as relics.[37]

The Washington Elm (Massachusetts)

The Washington Elm,

  • (American elm)Ulmus americanaUSDA Plants Profile of
  • Ulmus americanaFlora of North America: profile of
    • Ulmus americanaFlora of North America: distribution map for
  • imagesUlmus americana
  • Saving the American Elm, by Bruce Carley
  • Keith Warren, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. (2002): 'The Status of Elms in the Nursery Industry in 2000'
  • Plant atlas synonyms
  • The International Plant Names Index
  • fact-page and photographs pg. 1Ulmus americana: Plant EncyclopediaMichigan State University
    • : photographs pg. 2Plant EncyclopediaMichigan State University
  • 'Elms of the Monumental Core' (Washington D.C.) — National Park Service (2009), by James L. Sherald.

External links

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Whittemore, A. & Olsen, R. (2011). Ulmus americana (Ulmaceae) is a polyploidy complex. American Journal of Botany 98(4): 754–760. 2011. Botanical Society of America.
  4. ^ Kaplan, K. (2011). Hidden elm population may hold genes to combat Dutch elm disease. ARS News, 30 March 2011. USDA. [1]
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b Republished 2004, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9781108069380
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Elm Recovery Project, University of Guelph
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ a b
  39. ^ a b
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ a b c d
  44. ^
  45. ^ a b
  46. ^


  1. ^ The name "water elm" is also used for Planera aquatica, another species in the Ulmaceae.


North America


See also

The nobility and arching grace of the American elm in its heyday, on farms, in villages, in towns and on campuses, were celebrated in the books of photographs of Wallace Nutting (Massachusetts Beautiful, N.Y. 1923, and other volumes in the series) and of Samuel Chamberlain (The New England Image, New York, 1962).

Ulmus americana in photography

An American elm, located in a parking lot directly across the street from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK, survived a terrorist bombing on April 19, 1995 that killed 168 people and destroyed the building. Damaged in the blast, with fragments lodged in its trunk and branches, it was nearly cut down in efforts to recover evidence. However, nearly a year later the tree began to bloom. It is now an important part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and the Survivor Tree is featured prominently on the official logo of the memorial.[46]

The Survivor Tree

When cut down, Herbie was 217 years old. Herbie's wood is of interest to dendroclimatologists, who will use cross-sections of the trunk to help answer questions about climate during the tree's lifetime.[45]

Another notable American elm, named Herbie, was the tallest American elm in New England until it was cut down on January 19, 2010, after Dutch elm disease became fatal. Herbie was 110 feet (34 m) tall at its peak and had a circumference of 20.3 feet (6.2 m), or a diameter of approximately 6.5 feet (2.0 m). The tree stood in Yarmouth, Maine, where it was cared for by the town's tree warden, Frank Knight.[45]

An April 21, 2008, picture of Herbie

"Herbie" (Maine)

The Logan Elm that stood near Circleville, Ohio, was one of the largest American elms anywhere. The 65-foot-tall (20 m) tree had a trunk circumference of 24 feet (7.3 m) and a crown spread of 180 feet (55 m).[43] Weakened by Dutch elm disease, the tree died in 1964 from storm damage.[43] The Logan Elm State Memorial commemorates the site and preserves various associated markers and monuments.[43] According to tradition, Chief Logan of the Mingo tribe delivered a passionate speech at a peace-treaty meeting under this elm in 1774,[43][44]

The Logan Elm (Ohio)

  • George Washington's Elm, [38]

George Washington's Elm (District of Columbia)

The Liberty Tree (Massachusetts)


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