Plant DetailShow Menu

Similar but less problematic plants:
Acer rubrum Acer rubrum
Quercus pagoda Form
Quercus rubra Quercus rubra
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Ulmus alata Ulmus alata
Ulmus rubra ulnus rubra
Acer saccharinum From
Ulmus americana has some common insect problems:
Elm Sawfly
Native Elm Bark Beetle
Elm Lace Bug

Water Elm Ulmus americana

Other Common Name(s):

Other plants called Water Elm:

Previously known as:

  • Ulmus americana var. americana
Phonetic Spelling
ULM-us a-mer-ih-KAY-nah
Description

Ulmus americana, or American Elm, is a deciduous tree, native to North Carolina, that can grow to 80 to 100 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 2 to 5 feet. Older trees sometimes develop buttresses that expand their base. In nature. it can be found in swamps, bottomland forests, moist slopes, and in areas with especially nutrient-rich soils. The American elm is a beautiful shade tree with an urn shape typical of elms and a fibrous root system that makes it easy to transplant. It is susceptible to Dutch Elm disease, which makes it less than ideal for a landscape selection; however, resistant cultivars are available and are currently being evaluated.

American Elm grows well in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun, although it tolerates light shade. It prefers rich, moist loams and adapts to both wet and dry sites. It tolerates urban conditions. The leaves are alternate with a doubly toothed margin and unequal base. The bark is ashy gray with flat-topped ridges separated by diamond-shaped fissures. In late winter, small flowers mature in clusters of 3 to 5. The tree produces a flattened samara with a hairy margin. The tree often is found growing in rich soils. When sited in a dense forest, the tree tends to have a narrow crown and a long, clear bole. When sited in an open area, the tree tends to fork near the ground and develop an arching crown. Ulmus americana can be pruned and kept at shrub size by cutting them to the ground in the fall every 2 to 3 years.

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  

Dutch elm disease, a fatal fungal disease spread by airborne bark beetles that attacks the water-conducting tissue of the tree, resulting in wilting, defoliation and death. There is no known cure. Phloem necrosis, disease caused by a phytoplasma that attacks the food-conducting tissue of this tree, usually resulting in a loosening of the bark, wilting, defoliation and death. Wetwood, bacterial disease that results in wilting and dieback. Various wilts, rots, cankers and leaf spots may also occur. Insect visitors include borers, leaf miner, beetles, mealy bugs, caterpillars and scaleis.

VIDEO Created by Elizabeth Meyer for "Trees, Shrubs and Conifers" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Creole Queen'
  • 'Deleware #2'
    Disease resistent, vigorous grower.
  • 'Jefferson'
    Disease resistant, 50 feet and vase-shaped.
  • Liberty
    Not as disease resistant as some others, comprised of more than one clone.
  • New Harmony
    Upright, 70 feet tall and wide, not as disease resistant as some others.
  • 'Princeton'
    Vase-shaped, good disease resistance, 70 feet high by 50 feet wide.
  • 'Princeton'
  • 'Valley Forge'
    Classic Elm tree form, best dutch elm disease resistance.
'Creole Queen', 'Deleware #2', 'Jefferson', Liberty, New Harmony, 'Princeton', 'Princeton', 'Valley Forge'
Tags:
#rain garden#lumber#red#rich soil#street tree#loamy soil#eastern comma butterfly#cpp#slopes#arching#wet soils tolerant#rough leaves#painted lady butterfly#small flowers#early winter flowers#deciduous#forests#Braham Arboretum#Piedmont Mountains FACW#rough#shade garden#high maintenance#fall color yellow#food source#bird friendly#red flowers#shade tolerant#shade tree#green#moth larvae#green flowers#low flammability#winter interest#food source spring#songbirds#dry soils tolerant#spring fruits#fast growing#woodlands#well-drained soil#NC native#compaction tolerant#winter flowers#full sun tolerant#tree#disease resistant#early spring flowers#fruits#red-spotted purple butterfly#food source herbage#native#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#nesting#erect#urban conditions tolerant#deer resistant#partial shade tolerant#butterfly larvae#leathery#fall color#black walnut toxicity tolerant#pollinator garden#loamy soils tolerant#small mammals#air pollution tolerant#woody#deciduous tree#mourning cloak butterflies#loam#flowering tree#small and large mammals#larval host tree#gray bark#fire resistant#butterfly friendly#samaras#native tree#spreading#winter garden#spring interest#moths#gray#leathery leaves#partial sun#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#larval host plant#question mark butterfly#native garden#wildlife plant#showy flowers#moist soil#vase-shaped#coastal FAC#naturalized area#spring flowers
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Creole Queen'
  • 'Deleware #2'
    Disease resistent, vigorous grower.
  • 'Jefferson'
    Disease resistant, 50 feet and vase-shaped.
  • Liberty
    Not as disease resistant as some others, comprised of more than one clone.
  • New Harmony
    Upright, 70 feet tall and wide, not as disease resistant as some others.
  • 'Princeton'
    Vase-shaped, good disease resistance, 70 feet high by 50 feet wide.
  • 'Princeton'
  • 'Valley Forge'
    Classic Elm tree form, best dutch elm disease resistance.
'Creole Queen', 'Deleware #2', 'Jefferson', Liberty, New Harmony, 'Princeton', 'Princeton', 'Valley Forge'
Tags:
#rain garden#lumber#red#rich soil#street tree#loamy soil#eastern comma butterfly#cpp#slopes#arching#wet soils tolerant#rough leaves#painted lady butterfly#small flowers#early winter flowers#deciduous#forests#Braham Arboretum#Piedmont Mountains FACW#rough#shade garden#high maintenance#fall color yellow#food source#bird friendly#red flowers#shade tolerant#shade tree#green#moth larvae#green flowers#low flammability#winter interest#food source spring#songbirds#dry soils tolerant#spring fruits#fast growing#woodlands#well-drained soil#NC native#compaction tolerant#winter flowers#full sun tolerant#tree#disease resistant#early spring flowers#fruits#red-spotted purple butterfly#food source herbage#native#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#nesting#erect#urban conditions tolerant#deer resistant#partial shade tolerant#butterfly larvae#leathery#fall color#black walnut toxicity tolerant#pollinator garden#loamy soils tolerant#small mammals#air pollution tolerant#woody#deciduous tree#mourning cloak butterflies#loam#flowering tree#small and large mammals#larval host tree#gray bark#fire resistant#butterfly friendly#samaras#native tree#spreading#winter garden#spring interest#moths#gray#leathery leaves#partial sun#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#larval host plant#question mark butterfly#native garden#wildlife plant#showy flowers#moist soil#vase-shaped#coastal FAC#naturalized area#spring flowers
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Ulmus
    Species:
    americana
    Family:
    Ulmaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The wood is heavy, hard, strong, and difficult to split. Often used for lumber, pulpwood, and firewood.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern North America
    Distribution:
    Eastern North America; Newfoundland to Manitoba, Florida and Texas.
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    This plant supports the following larvae: Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Question Mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis). Questionmark butterflies have an interesting life cycles: overwintered adult Question Mark butterflies lay eggs from spring until the end of May. These will appear as summer adults from May-September, laying eggs that then develop into the winter adult form. The winter adults appear in late August and shelter for the winter starting the cycle all over again. Adult Question Mark butterflies feed on rotting fruit, tree sap, dung, and carrion only visiting flowers for feeding when absolutely necessary. Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) rarely use this host plant in North Carolina. It is also a host plant for Red Spotted Purple butterflies.  The seeds are eaten by songbirds and small mammals.
    Play Value:
    Shade
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Wildlife Nesting
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Resistant to fire and moderately resistant to damage from deer.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 80 ft. 0 in. - 100 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 60 ft. 0 in. - 120 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Arching
    Erect
    Spreading
    Vase
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    Very Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4b, 4a, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Spring
    Fruit Type:
    Samara
    Fruit Description:
    The flowers give way to single-seeded wafer-like samaras (each tiny seed is surrounded by a flattened oval-rounded papery wing). The seeds are clustered on long stems and mature in April-May as the leaves reach full size. In North Carolina, fruits are available from March to April.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Winter
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The American elm has insignificant small green flowers that appear in spring before the foliage emerges. In North Carolina, flowers are available from February to March.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Leathery
    Rough
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Doubly Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The American elm has rough-textured, ovate-elliptic, dark green leaves (4 to 6 inches long) with toothed margins, asymetrical bases, and a long, slightly curved point. The leaves typically turn an undistinguished yellow in fall.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Ridges
    Bark Description:
    Divided into flat braided ridges, generally firm, but tends to come off in flakes on old trees.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Naturalized Area
    Slope/Bank
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rain Garden
    Shade Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Street Tree
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Moths
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Compaction
    Deer
    Diseases
    Drought
    Fire
    Heat
    Urban Conditions