Slippery Elm (Rubra)

The Slippery Elm (Rubra) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late winter, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until spring. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Slippery Elm (Rubra) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Slippery Elm (Rubra) will reach up to 85 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 45 feet.

The Slippery Elm (Rubra) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -43°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: This tree was valued for its bark, which supplied material for the sides of winter houses and roofs of the Meskwaki. The inner bark was used for cordage by many tribes. The Menomini gathered the bark, boiled it, and used it for making fiber bags and large storage baskets. The Dakota, Omaha-Ponca, Winnebago, and Pawnee used the inner bark fiber for making ropes and cords. Slippery elm was also used extensively as a medicine. The Iroquois scraped the bark of the tree and used it in combination with other plants to treat infected and swollen glands. The inner bark was made into an eye wash for sore eyes. The Menomini used the inner bark in a tea and it was taken as a physic. The inner bark was used by the Menomini and the Meskwaki in a poultice to heal sores on the body. Meskwaki women drank a tea of the bark to make childbirth easier. The tree also was used by the Ojibwe to treat sore throats. The fresh inner bark was boiled and the Dakota, Omaha-Ponca, and other tribes drank the resulting decoction as a laxative. The indigenous people generously taught some of these uses to early non-Indian settlers. Today slippery elm is found in health food stores and is used to relieve sore throats, coughs and other bronchial ailments, and used as a laxative. The wood is used commercially for making furniture, paneling, and containers.

Wildlife: Birds often nest in the thick elm foliage, and the seeds and buds are food to songbirds, game birds, and squirrels. Deer and rabbits browse on the twigs.

General Characteristics

General: Elm Family (Ulmaceae). This graceful, arching tree reaches 20 m, with twigs that are scabrous-pubescent. It can live to be 200 years old and is identified by its slippery inner bark. The winter-buds are densely covered with red-brown hairs. The leaves are oblong to obovate, thick and stiff and 10-20 cm. They are pinnately veined and not equilateral. The flowers are subsessile in dense fascicles with 5-9 stamens. They appear before the leaves in the spring. The fruit is a flat, 1-seeded samara. It is suborbicular, 1.5-2 cm and pubescent over the seed.

Required Growing Conditions

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS web site. This plant is found in moist woods, in southern Maine and southern Quebec to eastern North Dakota, and south to Florida and Texas.

General Upkeep and Control

UMCA"Young trees can be trained to form a single trunk by pruning the suckers as they appear (Labadie 1978). Mature trees can be thinned to reduce the deep shading that their dense canopies can produce. Although evergreen, the trees drop an abundance of leaves, especially in the autumn.

Pests and Potential Problems California laurel is relatively free of insect pests but can be affected by aphids, greedy scale, ivy scale, soft brown scale, thrups, white fly, laurel white fly, leaf blotch miner, and inconspicuous white fly (Labadie 1978). Heart rot, caused by the fungus Ganoderma applanatum can be controlled by cutting down infected trees to a height of 20cm and allowing them to stump sprout (Howard 1992). "

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Winter
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 85
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Spring
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -43
Soil Depth for Roots 40
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5.5–7 pH
Precipitation Range 25–25 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 40
Minimum Frost-Free Days 110 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA