The beauty of the American elm's vase-shaped foliage has decorated the American landscape for centuries. This stately tree is easy to plant and grows fast in a variety of soil, moisture and lighting conditions. American elm lined the streets of many American cities before its existence was devastated by the advent of the Dutch elm disease. Now the American elm is protected wherever it is found--a majestic tree of irreplaceable value.
The American elm tree is a member of the ulmaceae or elm family, a perennial tree native to most of the eastern and central regions of North America. The American elm tree actively grows from spring through summer, reaching up to 120 feet in height, and its rapid growth rate puts the tree's height at 50 feet in just 20 years. The tree thrives well in full-sun to partial-shade exposure and requires moist, rich, well-drained soil.
The leaves of the American elm are characteristically similar to other elms. Its leaves are arranged in an alternate pattern around the stem, and each leaf has an uneven or asymmetrical base. The leaves measure 2 to 3 inches in width and 4 to 6 inches in length. Each leaf is ovate in shape and has a central vein from which other veins branch off and run out to meet the grooves of the leaf's serrated edges or margins. The American elm is a deciduous tree whose leaves turn from green to yellow in the fall.
Flowers and Fruit
One of the first flowering trees to bloom, the small greenish flowers of the American elm appear in early spring, from the middle of March into April. Its rounded, winged-nut fruit measuring about one-half an inch in diameter appear shortly after the flowers and also ripen in the springtime.
Trunk and Branches
The color of the American elm's straight trunk is described as dark and ashy gray by the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. The mature bark develops noticeable ridges and furrows that appear straight on younger trees but interconnected on mature trees.
Numerous branches emerge from the apex of the tree's trunk forming its characteristic vase shape. Secondary branches and smaller twigs form off of the main branches, which spread vertically and laterally to give the tree's spreading or upright crown a very full foliage appearance.
American elms are propagated by seed and by cuttings. Sow the fresh seeds into the ground after collecting them from the tree. The best time to propagate by cutting is before the tree's budding phase, which is in late winter.
American elm trees are susceptible to several diseases, the most prominent disease being the Dutch elm disease. This is a fungus disease that affects the trees through its roots, caused by Ceratocystis ulmi. Other diseases affecting the American elm include verticillium wilt, which infects the tree through its roots; phloem necrosis, caused by a virus that affects its leaves; and dieback diseases, caused by cephalosporium and dothiorella microorganisms.
American elms perform well as broad-covering shade trees. Its hardwood has been prized in furniture making, flooring, construction and veneer production for making baskets and other wood products. Its durable wood was commonly used to make hockey sticks, and its wood remnants were used for papermaking and for harvesting wood pulp.