The Uses of Elm Trees
Elm trees are tall, deciduous, hardwood trees that typically produce serrated, ovate -- or oval-shaped -- leaves. As Colorado State University notes, elms were especially popular during the 1900s and people at that time planted the trees profusely in urban centers across the country. Unfortunately, these mass-plantings of the past now make some species of elm tree susceptible to Dutch elm disease, which has wiped out elm populations in many areas. Despite the disease, elm trees are still widely available and offer many uses.
Landscapers commonly use elm trees for lining streets and sidewalks but also plant them as stand-alone, specimen plants. Due to their vase-shaped crowns, which consist of upward and outward spreading branches, elms can provide optimal shade and when planted together can form continuous canopies.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a “good replacement” for the common, American elm tree -- which is going extinct from Dutch elm disease -- is the Chinese elm. The elm offers considerable aesthetic value, thanks to its textured, multi-colored bark and its leaves that turn shades of purple and red during the fall. Other Dutch elm disease-resistant landscaping options -- as North Dakota State University mentions -- include hybrids of Japanese and Siberian elms, like the cathedral elm, the vanguard elm or the Sapporo autumn gold elm.
In addition to planting elms to increase the aesthetic value of a space, some people use elm trees -- like Siberian, Japanese and American elms -- to agricultural ends. According to North Dakota State University, farmers use elm trees to build windbreaks or shelterbelts, which are dense rows of vegetation that block out the wind. The windbreaks protect soils from eroding and can also help prevent wind-related damage to crops.
Some elm trees, like the Chinese elm, produce edible fruits. As the USDA notes, people consume the immature fruits of Chinese elm trees both in raw and cooked forms. The fruits are aromatic and have an “unusual flavor,” which leaves the “breath smelling pleasant” and the “mouth feeling fresh.”
Woodworkers and manufacturers use the hardwood lumber of elm trees for constructing several different items, including furniture, barrels, crates, boxes and pallets. According to Purdue University, the three most important species of elm for the lumber industry are American elm, rock elm and slippery elm.
In addition to using it for building, people sometime use the wood of elm trees for burning in fireplaces and fire-pits. However, the interlocking grains of the wood make it difficult to split.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, evidence suggests that the inner bark of slipper elm trees can provide several medicinal benefits. For centuries Native Americans have used the bark for curing wounds, boils, ulcers and skin inflammations but it may also be able to help with coughs, sore throats, stomach problems and diarrhea.