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How To Identify An Elm Tree?

Elm trees are one of the most common trees, with many varieties spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The elm genus, Ulmus, is valuable for many reasons. They provide shade in landscaping, habitats for wildlife, and their wood has many uses. In this article, we’ll talk about identifying various types of elm trees. 

How Do You Tell If A Tree is an Elm Tree?

how do you tell if a tree is an elm tree

There are over thirty different species of elm trees that are scattered throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. While each species vary in appearance, there are several qualities that most elm trees have in common, such as: 

  • Leaf appearance and growth: Most types of elm trees have round leaves with serrated edges. The tips of the leaves are pointed, and their veins are distinct.
  • Samaras: These are a type of fruit that certain trees produce to spread seeds, which are enclosed in papery tissue. Elm tree samaras are round and thin, unlike maple trees, which are helicopter-shaped. 
  • Canopy: The canopies of elm trees are easy to spot, due to their size and density. The biggest type of elm tree grows up to 100 feet tall, and 75 feet wide. 
  • Bark: Elm tree bark is dark gray with deep furrows on the trunk. 

What Do Elm Trees Look Like?

While elm trees have several main characteristics that are consistent throughout the genus, you can distinguish each species by a few unique qualities. Here are some of the most common varieties of elm trees, and how to identify them: 

American Elm (Ulmus americana)

The canopy of an American elm tree is often described as vase-shaped, or umbrella-shaped due to the narrow trunk that explodes into vast, wide branches and leaves.  Although Dutch elm disease has wiped out a considerable portion of American elms, researchers are ensuring this tree will make a comeback by introducing several disease-resistant varieties.

Florida Elm (Ulmus americana var. floridana)

These elms are native to North America, unlike many other elm trees. Florida elms are a smaller variation of American elm trees, and also have a vase-shaped canopy. Florida elms are also susceptible to Dutch elm disease.

Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)

This tree, also known as the Textas elm, is native to the southern United States. 

Other than geographical location, cedar elms stand out because they have the smallest leaves of any elm tree. Texas elms are also known for their ability to thrive in poor soil, drought, and pollution.

Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila)

Native to Siberia, Korea, Tibet, India, Mongolia, and China, this elm tree is known for its ability to survive in seemingly any climate. Siberian elms are smaller than many elm trees and fast-growing, with a dense canopy spread of around 40 feet

Siberian elm trees have small, red flowers and weak branches that are prone to breaking. 

English Elm (Ulmus procera

These elm trees can be identified by their oval-shaped, asymmetrical leaves that have teeth around the edges and short stalks. English elms are common in western Europe, including the United Kingdom where they were once prolific. 

Today, it’s rare to see a fully grown English elm in the UK, since they were ravaged by Dutch elm disease. People commonly use them as smaller hedgerows now.  

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

The slippery elm is native to eastern North America and thrives throughout the United States and Quebec. This tree’s claim to fame lies within its inner bark, which contains a thick, sticky substance that is used for various herbal remedies. 

Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifola

Chinese elms are small to medium trees that are often used in ornamental landscapes. Their bark is flakey and reveals patches of orange when peeled away

Some people find that Chinese elms make a great substitute for American elms since they are resistant to Dutch elm disease. They also make great bonsai trees, since they hold up well to heavy pruning. 

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Ash and Elm Trees?

how do you tell the difference between ash and elm trees

In 2003, scientists discovered an insect called the emerald ash borer, which causes irreparable damage to ash trees. Various federal regulations were implemented to try to control the spread of the pest, but these restrictions were recently discontinued as it does not seem to be stopping the infestations. 

Instead of eradicating the pest, researchers are now mainly focused on breeding trees that are more resistant to ash borers. In the meantime, it’s important to be able to distinguish ash from other trees on your property to be able to monitor the health of your trees. 

Here are the three main ways to identify ash trees:

  1. Branches: Buds and twigs can be found in pairs located directly across from each other on ash branches.
  2. Leaves: Ash trees have compound leaves, which contain anywhere from 5 to 11 leaflets that are grouped in pairs along a middle vein. The leaf clusters are topped by a single leaf. 
  3. Bark: Furrowed bark in a diamond-shaped pattern makes ash tree bark stand out. 

While there are many tree species that have one or two of these traits, the ash tree is the only one that has all three of them. For example, some varieties of elm also have diamond-patterned bark, but they don’t have compound leaves or the same branch and bud patterns. 

For more information on ash tree identification, you can check out this video from the Colorado State Forest Service:

Elm trees are a wonderfully diverse species that are essential to our ecosystem, and thus important to protect. You can do your part by planting disease-resistant varieties when possible and monitoring the health of your trees. 

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