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Chinese Elm Ulmus pumila

Other Common Name(s):

Other plants called Chinese Elm:

Phonetic Spelling
ULM-us POO-mil-uh
Description

The Siberian Elm is a very adaptable deciduous, fast-growing tree that often grows in poor soils and withstands drought. It is resistant to Dutch elm disease and has been used to develop other elms with resistance.  It is generally considered a poor ornamental tree, mostly because of its weak branches, messy habit, and susceptibility to insect attack, especially leaf beetles. In some areas, this tree is considered weedy and borderline invasive. 

This tree is native to Asia and was introduced in the United States in the 1860s. At that time, it was valued for its hardiness and fast growth. It is used as a windbreak tree. It has been widely planted in Minnesota and can be found along roadsides and grasslands forming dense thickets.

The leaves are doubly serrate, dark green on the upper surface, and light green below. They are oblique or have a larger blade on one side than the other.  In the winter, there are large shiny black buds present. 

Seasons of Interest:

Buds:  Winter              Foliage:  Summer and Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • 50 to 70 feet in height, 35 to 50 feet wide with a vase-shaped crown
  • bark is dark gray in mature trees with silver-gray twigs
  • leaves are alternate, simple, doubly serrate, ovate to lanceolate shape, oblique, dark green upper surface, and light green beneath 
  • drooping clusters of light green to reddish flowers appear in the spring before the leaves develop and are not showy
  • fruit is a samara that is winged, rounded, 0.5 to 1-inch in diameter, brown, dry, and hard
  • large black shiny buds during the winter

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  The leaves are often eaten by the elm leaf beetle. Other problem insects include borers, leaf miners, sawflies, mealy bugs, caterpillars, and scale. It is resistant but not immune to Dutch elm disease and phloem necrosis. It suffers from various wilts, rots, and cankers. It can form large colonies with its copious seed formation and is considered invasive in some states. Consider native alternatives listed in the left-hand column.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Chinkota'
    Seed-produced line of extra cold-hardy trees.
  • 'Coolshade'
    Resistance to limb breakage during storms
  • 'Improved Coolshade'
    Drought tolerant, hardy, resistant to limb breakage
  • 'Lincoln'
    Resistant to Dutch elm disease
  • 'Morton Plainsman' (Vanguardâ„¢)-
    Good disease resistance and tolerance of harsh climatic and cultural situations
  • 'New Horizon' -
    Resistance to Dutch elm disease and tolerance of harsh growing conditions
  • Pendula' -
    Branches that show a more weeping habit
'Chinkota', 'Coolshade', 'Improved Coolshade', 'Lincoln', 'Morton Plainsman' (Vanguardâ„¢)-, 'New Horizon' -, Pendula' -
Tags:
#deciduous#full sun tolerant#drought tolerant#weedy#winter interest#windbreak#high maintenance#air pollution tolerant#fast growing#messy#weak wood#insect problems#flowers spring#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Chinkota'
    Seed-produced line of extra cold-hardy trees.
  • 'Coolshade'
    Resistance to limb breakage during storms
  • 'Improved Coolshade'
    Drought tolerant, hardy, resistant to limb breakage
  • 'Lincoln'
    Resistant to Dutch elm disease
  • 'Morton Plainsman' (Vanguardâ„¢)-
    Good disease resistance and tolerance of harsh climatic and cultural situations
  • 'New Horizon' -
    Resistance to Dutch elm disease and tolerance of harsh growing conditions
  • Pendula' -
    Branches that show a more weeping habit
'Chinkota', 'Coolshade', 'Improved Coolshade', 'Lincoln', 'Morton Plainsman' (Vanguardâ„¢)-, 'New Horizon' -, Pendula' -
Tags:
#deciduous#full sun tolerant#drought tolerant#weedy#winter interest#windbreak#high maintenance#air pollution tolerant#fast growing#messy#weak wood#insect problems#flowers spring#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Ulmus
    Species:
    pumila
    Family:
    Ulmaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Asia, Siberia
    Distribution:
    Most of the US, especially in the west and midwest.
    Play Value:
    Wind Break
    Dimensions:
    Height: 50 ft. 0 in. - 70 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 35 ft. 0 in. - 50 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Vase
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    High
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Cream/Tan
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Spring
    Fruit Type:
    Samara
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a samara that is winged, round, and contains one seed. It measures 0.5 to 1 inch in diameter. The covering is brown, dry, and hard. They do not attract wildlife and are not showy. The fruits appear in clusters and are spread by the wind.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    Flowers develop, in drooping clusters, in the spring between March and May. Unlike other Elms, they are perfect flowers and self-pollinate. Their flowers are light green to reddish and appear in small clusters of two to five. They appear before the leaves develop and are not showy.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Lanceolate
    Leaf Margin:
    Doubly Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are dark green on the upper surface and light green on the lower surface. The margins are doubly serrate. They measure 1 to 3 inches long, are oblique (more leaf blade on one than the other), and are oval to lanceolate in shape. Their fall color is yellow.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Gray
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Ridges
    Bark Description:
    The bark is a light gray-brown with irregular furrows and is often streaked with stains caused by bacterial wetwood. The bark is dark gray and has shallow grooves on the mature tree.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Gray/Silver
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Zig Zags
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    Stems are silver-gray, glabrous, or pubescent, unwinged, without a corky layer, with scattered lenticels, and they have a zig-zag form. The round to oval winter buds is dark brown to red-brown.
  • Landscape:
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Drought
    Pollution
    Poor Soil
    Problems:
    Frequent Insect Problems
    Messy
    Weak Wood
    Weedy