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Elm Tree Guide: 10 Popular Types of Elm Trees in 2023

Large elm tree with green leaves under the blue sky

Elm trees are members of the Ulmus genus, which is part of the Ulmaceae plant family. Within the genus, there are 30 to 40 deciduous tree species, and some types of elm trees have been popular landscape trees for centuries. Elms are samara (fruiting) producers that can become invasive if the growing conditions are favorable.

Elm tree wood is strong, long-lasting, and resistant to rot and weather, even when submerged in water for extended periods of time. Because of these properties, elm has long been used to make ship keels, piers, archery bows, and furniture.

Elm trees resemble the common shade trees found lining streets in many American cities and towns; they are tall with wide spreading canopies. The leaves of elm trees are typically oval with serrated edges. On the branches, the leaves are arranged alternately.

An up angle of an elm tree showing its bark and branches with leaves during fall

Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

The majority (but not all) of the bark on elm trees is rough, and some species of elm trees have leaves with a rough side and others that are velvety on both sides. Most species produce flowers that grow into samaras, which are fruiting bodies with one seed each. Elm trees produce circular or oval helicopter samaras as opposed to the more well-known maple tree variety.

As a master gardener, I’ve studied elm trees for years. In this article, I’ll share the 10 types of elm trees you should know about, including what makes them special.

Note about Dutch Elm Disease (DED)

Unfortunately, Dutch elm disease (DED), which was discovered for the first time in the United States during the 1930s, has caused elm trees to lose popularity in North America and Europe.

Patterns on a branch of an elm tree affected by the Dutch elm disease (DED)

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The American elm (Ulmus americana) was planted along countless streets in many parts of the United States because land developers and landscape architects thought elms were sturdy trees that could withstand rough street conditions. However, many trees died as a result of the disease.

Several American elm cultivars, including ‘Valley Forge,’ ‘Princeton,’ ‘Prairie Expedition,’ ‘New Harmony,’ and ‘St. Croix,’ are now resistant to Dutch elm disease.

However, despite the widespread concern about DED, not all elms are susceptible to the disease.

1. American Elm (Ulmus americana)

Native Area: North America

Hardiness Zones: 2-9 (USDA)

Height: 60-80 feet

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

American Elm (Ulmus americana) in a green lawn beside the beach

American Elm (Ulmus americana) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The American Elm, or Ulmus americana, is a beloved native species gracing the landscapes of North America. This deciduous tree was once a common sight across the United States, noted for its significant upright form, with branches that spread widely, forming a graceful vase shape.

What makes the American Elm exceptional are its wide area of adaptability and exquisite silhouette that can dramatically add interest to any landscape. The leaves – rich, dark green and oval – change to lovely yellow shades in autumn. It produces a distinctive fruit called a “samara” – a flat, oval, papery wing encasing a single seed.

For any gardener, choosing the American Elm would be a good choice not only because of its shade-giving capacity but also it is robust and hardy, and withstands urban pollution. It grows well in various soil types but prefers moist soil.

Furthermore, there are now cultivars available, like ‘Valley Forge’, ‘Jefferson’, ‘New Harmony’, and ‘Princeton,’ that have demonstrated a high degree of resistance to the Dutch Elm Disease, a common threat to elm species in general. This allows gardeners to reap the benefits of the American Elm’s majestic charm without the worry of losing it to disease.

2. Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’)

Native Area: Southern Europe

Hardiness Zones: 5-8 (USDA)

Height: 15-25 feet

Sun Exposure: Full Sun

Trunk and branches of the Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’) tree with green foliage

Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Camperdown Elm, with its Latin name being Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’, hails from the deciduous tree genus Ulmus. Having its roots in southern Europe, this elm species has found its way to various parts of North America, where it graces the landscape in USDA hardiness zones five to eight.

What makes the Camperdown Elm outstanding is its distinctive vase shape. Its leaves, far from ordinary, grow in an oval pattern, augmenting the overall aesthetic appeal of the tree. Its smooth bark, when closely examined, reveals fascinating ridges that add to its unique charm.

Any gardening enthusiast will find this tree a good choice for multiple reasons. Not only does it thrive in full sun, but it is also able to endure moist soil. This makes it versatile and easy to maintain. In addition, its relatively compact upright form and height, ranging from 15-25 feet, can provide splendid shades to any landscape.

As part of the elm trees, the Camperdown can exhibit a certain resilience against the common Dutch elm disease, a trait that any gardener would appreciate in their collection. Finally, when autumn arrives, lucky observers may find the tree’s samara – seeds encased in a delicate, papery hull – a unique spectacle to behold.

3. Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)

Native Area: North America

Hardiness Zones: 6 – 9 (USDA)

Height: 50 – 70 feet

Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) in a green field in fall season

Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Cedar Elm, known by its scientific name Ulmus crassifolia, is a native species priding the landscapes of North America, particularly the Southern states. This deciduous tree touts a distinct vase shape and firmly stands upright, painting a balanced picture in any gardener’s canvas.

What sets the Cedar Elm apart from a wide array of elm trees, such as the American Elm (Ulmus americana), Siberian Elm (Ulmus davidiana), and Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia), are its leaves.

Small and oval in shape, they are rough to touch and hold onto their vibrant green shade until autumn paints them yellow. Moreover, unlike the smooth bark of a Lacebark Elm, the Cedar Elm’s elm tree bark is adorned with an intricate pattern of ridges and furrows.

Gardeners should consider growing this beauty as it not only serves as a good choice for shade trees, but its adaptability also sets it apart. It thrives under full sun and can handle varying degrees of moisture in the soil, displaying a certain level of drought resistance that makes it durable.

To top it off, in late summer, the Cedar Elm produces a samara, a feature shared with maple trees, which adds another layer of visual interest. In conclusion, the Cedar Elm promises both beauty and strength, a winning combination for any landscape.

4. Cherry-Bark Elm (Ulmus villosa)

Native Area: Asia (primarily India)

Hardiness Zones: 5 – 10 (USDA)

Height: Up to 60 feet

Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Partial Shade

The Cherry-Bark Elm, also known as Ulmus villosa, is a deciduous tree native to Asia, primarily around the diverse landscapes of India. This particular species stands out among the genus Ulmus because of its size, reaching 60 feet under optimal conditions, and its adaptability to diverse climatic zones, from full sunlight to shades.

Its real charm, however, lies in its cherry-like smooth bark that forms intriguing ridges and valiantly stands against the odds of drought and diseases like Dutch Elm Disease.

Unlike other common names in elm trees like the American elm (Ulmus americana) or the Siberian elm, the Cherry-bark elm displays an upright form and a wide area of foliage, which doubles up as an excellent shade tree in large gardens.

As a gardener, the Cherry-Bark Elm can be a good choice. It is a decent competitor to popular shade trees like maple trees while showcasing the beauty and resilience characteristic of elm trees.

With moist soil and a bit of care, this tree passes the test as a landscape hero down to the North American or European elm cultivars. Its oval-shaped leaves and the prolific samara make it a sight to behold in full bloom.

As more elm cultivars and species are explored and bred, the Ulmus villosa continues to be a meaningful addition to the prairie expedition of any elm tree lover.

5. Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

Native Area: Asia

Hardiness Zones: 4 – 9 (USDA)

Height: 40 – 50 feet

Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Part Shade

Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) under the blue sky

Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) – Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

The Chinese Elm is a hearty member of the genus Ulmus that hails from Asia, specifically regions like China, India, Japan, and Korea. This deciduous tree is a versatile and rewarding addition to any landscape, making it a good choice for seasoned gardeners and novices alike.

One of the standout characteristics of the Chinese Elm is its smooth bark, which peels away in patches to reveal a mottled pattern of grey, green, brown, and even orange beneath. The tree’s foliage is equally striking with small, oval leaves that provide delightful shades of green throughout the warmer seasons.

The primary reason any gardener should consider growing this elm species is its exceptional resilience. Compared to the American Elm, which was devastated by the Dutch Elm Disease in the 20th Century, the Chinese Elm presents a significant resistance to diseases and pests.

Furthermore, it is drought-resistant, thriving in moist soil while also tolerating arid conditions. This makes it an excellent alternative to more disease-prone species like the Siberian Elm or the English Elm.

Lastly, the Chinese Elm exhibits a remarkably wide area of adaptability, making it a brilliant addition to any garden in the United States, from North Dakota’s prairie expedition zones to the sunny landscapes of southern Europe.

6. David Elm (Ulmus davidiana)

Native Area: Asia (specifically North East Asia including China, Japan, India)

Hardiness Zones: 4-9 (USDA)

Height: up to 60 feet

Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

David Elm (Ulmus davidiana) lined up in a garden during autumn season

David Elm (Ulmus davidiana) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The David Elm, scientifically known as Ulmus davidiana, is a deciduous tree in the genus Ulmus originally from Asia. It’s an impressive variety amongst the elm species with its majestic, upright form and its bark’s striking features.

This species is particularly notable for its adaptability to a wide area, from North Dakota to southern Europe, the United States, and the more temperate zones of North America.

What makes the David Elm truly special is its beautifully ridged, cherry-bark elm that offers a symphony of shades throughout the seasons. In addition, the tree yields a unique kind of samara, showing off an oval shape that differs from the more common American elm or English elm. Plus, it has a commendably high resistance to the dreaded Dutch elm disease that has devastated many other elm species such as the American and European white elm.

Consider adding the David Elm to your landscape for its year-round beauty. It’s a good choice for full sun to part shade microclimates and tolerant of drought, but it thrives best in moist soil conditions. Its lofty stature makes it a prime candidate for shade trees, and it coexists harmoniously with different deciduous trees including maple.

Growing this species not only offers a delightful aesthetic to your garden but also helps preserve a slice of the precious elm gene pool in the face of disease threats. Your contribution to this conservation effort can start from planting this towering symbol of resilience.

7. English Elm (Ulmus procera)

Native Area: Southern Europe

Hardiness Zones: 5 – 7 (USDA)

Height: Up to 100 feet

Sun Exposure: Full sun

English Elm (Ulmus procera) trees lined up beside the road under blue sky

English Elm (Ulmus procera) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

English Elm, scientifically identified as Ulmus procera is a majestic and iconic species of elm trees. Native to Southern Europe, it has carved its niche strongly in the vast botanical world.

Characteristically distinguished by a high trunk that leads to an expansive vase-shaped crown, it looms large in the landscape, casting wide shades and exhibiting its deciduous tree status.

What makes the English Elm mesmerizing is its smooth bark with deep furrows and ridges, along with an oval stream of dark green leaves. Its dual-toned leaves which are dark green atop, and slightly lighter on the bottom, sway beautifully in the breeze, adding a soothing rhythm to your garden.

Furthermore, this tree is tremendously resilient and can thrive in varied soil conditions, though it shows a slight preference for moist soil. Blooming under full sun, it’s well-suited for USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through to 7.

Every gardener should consider adding the English Elm to their collection not just for its mesmerizing beauty, but also for its ability to give a stunning vertical dimension to the landscape. Its graceful upright form and interesting color variations throughout seasons make it an exceptional shade tree and a good choice for a wide area garden.

8. European White Elm (Ulmus laevis)

Native Area: Southern Europe

Hardiness Zones: 3-8 (USDA)

Height: 60-100 feet

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

European White Elm (Ulmus laevis) in the beach meadow under blue cloudy sky

European White Elm (Ulmus laevis) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The European White Elm, scientifically known as Ulmus laevis, is a majestic deciduous tree native to Southern Europe. It graces the landscape with its wide, shady canopy and striking oval-shaped leaves. With its signature vase shape, it is a recognizable species within the genus Ulmus.

What makes this tree special is its versatility. The European white elm can thrive in a wide range of soil conditions, though it prefers moist soil. Unlike many of its elm tree cousins, such as the American Elm and Siberian Elm, the European White Elm is relatively resistant to the notorious Dutch Elm disease.

Considering its elegance, resilience, and the cooling shades it provides, gardeners around the world find the European White Elm a good choice.

Grown for its smooth bark and the splendid display of its ridges and leaves, this elm species can transform the ordinary into extraordinary. Moreover, it stands tall and upright, making it an impressive sight in any garden.

Its low maintenance and excellent adaptability further add to its appeal, making it a pride for both novice and experienced gardeners.

9. Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila)

Native Area: Asia

Hardiness Zones: 4-9 (USDA)

Height: 50-70 feet

Sun Exposure: Full Sun

Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila) trunk and branches with green leaves

Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Siberian Elm, also known as Ulmus pumila, is a remarkable sight to behold. Hailing from Asia and then widely spread towards different parts of North America, this deciduous tree is a dynamic addition to any landscape.

What makes it special is its undeniable resilience. This elm species can thrive in drought conditions where many trees wilt, making it a good choice for challenging climates. Moreover, its wide area of adaptability makes it survivable across different zones, from arid dessert to moist soil.

Perhaps the most captivating aspect of the Siberian Elm is its oval, vase shape that often covers a wide swath of landscape, offering a compelling shade oasis. The leaves are small and deciduous, turning mellow yellow at the onset of fall. With an upright form and smooth bark dotted with unique ridges, this tree truly stands out from its elm tree cousins.

As a gardener, you should consider growing it for its high tolerance of tough conditions, its aesthetic appeal, and its significant contribution to biodiversity. Its hardiness, combined with the fact that it’s not as susceptible to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease unlike the American elm, only adds further value.

Just remember, every addition to your garden is part of a larger tapestry, and the Siberian Elm has all the potential to be its crowning jewel.

10. Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

Native Area: North America

Hardiness Zones: 3 – 9 (USDA)

Height: 40 – 60 feet

Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Green leaves of the Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) under sunlight

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Slippery Elm, scientifically known as Ulmus rubra, is a remarkable dove-timer of the American species of Elm trees. It is a hardy, deciduous tree deeply rooted in the North American landscape and known for its resilience.

What makes the Slippery Elm special is its high adaptability to different climates – from hot and dry to cold and moist. Its inner bark is unique, with a ‘slippery’ texture when moistened, hence its common name.

Slippery Elm leaves create amiable shades, and its upright form ends in a widened oval shape, adding a distinctive touch to any landscape. The tree boasts a vase shape and smooth bark, maturing into roughened ridges.

Any gardener consider growing a Slippery Elm due to its aesthetic appeal and suitability as a shade tree. It is also a good choice for harsh conditions, resistant to drought but preferring moist soil.

Additionally, its distinctly textured bark and the oval-shaped samara it produces provide a blend of beauty and distinctiveness to your garden setting.

From the prairie expeditions of North Dakota to the cityscapes of Princeton, the Slippery Elm stands as an emblem of endurance and elegance in the realm of Ulmus americana.

Other Tree Guides from Planet Natural:

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Weeping Cherry Tree

Persimmon Tree: Full Guide to Growing, Caring For & Harvesting

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