5 Trees That Look Like Elm

You’ve probably heard of elm trees, but do you know what they look like? Their leaves have a very common, non-distinct shape, so there’s a good chance that even if you’ve seen an elm tree, you may have confused it with another type of tree that had similar leaves. Keep reading to learn about some of the trees that look like elm and how to tell them apart.

Trees That Look Like Elm

1. Hackberry

hackberry trees

There are several dozen species of hackberry trees which can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in temperate areas. These trees are classed in the same order as elms, but they belong to a different genus and family.

Hackberry leaves look similar to elm leaves: the leaves of both trees are dark green, oval-shaped, pointed, serrated, and deeply-veined. They are roughly the same size as elm leaves as well.

That said, hackberry leaves tend to be smoother than elm leaves, which have a more fuzzy, soft texture.

Hackberry trees have an overall similar form and shape as elm trees and are roughly the same size. Both trees have gray-brown bark and are found growing in some of the same areas.

One notable difference between the two tree types is their fruit. Elms produce papery winged fruits called samaras, while hackberries produce sugary, purple berries.

2. Ash

Ash trees

Ash trees are found widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere in both temperate and subtropical regions. These trees are frequently confused with elm trees.

Ashes and elms are almost indistinguishable from a distance, as they come in similar sizes and shapes.

Their leaves appear similar at first glance, though elms have simple leaves and most ashes have compound leaves. The leaflets on ash trees are slightly smaller but similar in appearance to elm leaves, as they are dark green, pointed, ovular, and deeply veined.

Both elm and ash trees produce winged samaras for fruit. They both have gray-brown bark with deep furrows and braid-like patterns.

The primary difference between the two trees is the leaf composition, since ash trees have compound leaves. Their leaves are alternately arranged, whereas elm tree leaves are arranged oppositely. 

3. Beech

Beech trees are also found throughout temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, much like the other trees on this list.

Beech and elm are commonly confused due to the similarity of their leaf structure and the brown-gray color of their bark. 

The leaves are similar in shape to elm leaves, though typically broader. They are simple, often serrated, pointed, and clustered on the stem in a similar pattern as elm leaves.

That said, the leaves are typically lighter green on beech trees, and they are smooth and shiny compared to the fuzzy dullness of elm leaves.

What’s more, beech trees tend to grow straighter, with less of a spread-out canopy, than elm trees. Their bark, though similar in color, is smooth rather than deeply-grooved like elm bark.

Finally, beech trees produce small, hard nuts that fall to the ground during autumn. This is in contrast with the lightweight, papery samaras that elms produce.

Check out this video for a great side-by-side comparison of elm and beech leaves:

4. Hornbeam

These trees are widespread throughout temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly Asia, though some are native to North America and Europe as well.

Hornbeam trees have simple, alternate, serrated leaves that look very similar to elm leaves. The trees grow to roughly the same size as elm trees, though they are not known for having a wide-spreading canopy as elms do.

Hornbeam trees produce papery seed clusters that are quite distinctive looking–in the North American species, these clusters look similar to hops. For this reason, they are easily distinguished from elms despite the similarity of their leaves.

What’s more, their trunks are smooth and greenish-gray in color, which contrasts noticeably with the deeply-grooved, grayish bark of elm trees.

5. Cottonwood

Cottonwood trees

Cottonwood trees belong to the Populus family, which includes aspens and poplars. They are commonly found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere.

These trees can grow quite large and have spreading canopies, much like elm trees. Their bark tends to be gray-brown and furrowed, which further enhances their elm-like appearance.

That said, cottonwood trees have much different leaves than elm trees do. Though they are similarly arranged, pointed, and serrated, they are more heart-shaped or triangular in appearance. 

The leaves are also smooth rather than fuzzy, and they are not as deeply-veined as elm tree leaves.

Cottonwood trees also don’t produce samara as elms do. Instead, they produce catkins which release a fluffy, cottony substance in the spring, though these trees are dioecious, so only female trees do this. 

So, despite their similar looks from a distance, a closer inspection will reveal that cottonwoods and elms have many differences.


Elms have very average-looking leaves which make them easy to confuse with some other types of trees. Some of these trees include hornbeams, ashes, and hackberries.

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