The Siberian elm is an introduced deciduous tree, originating from northern Asia, and was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s. Originally planted as windbreaks, and as shade trees, Siberian elm has since escaped cultivation and spread and is now considered an invasive species in many areas of the country.
Siberian elm's leaves are oval-shaped and pointed at the tip with serrated edges and alternate along the branches. Each leaf is up to two inches long and medium green in color and turns yellow in fall. The flowers of the tree bloom in early spring and are inconspicuous. The seeds are round, flat, winged and are spread by the wind. The bark is light gray with moderate, irregular furrows.
This tree grows rapidly, often adding more than two feet of growth per year and does well from hardiness zones 4 through 9 within the United States. The tree is especially cold and drought tolerant and will often grow where other tree species won't. Siberian elm seeds abundantly and tends to be invasive forming dense thickets in underdeveloped areas, such as pastures, prairie and roadsides that may displace native species.
Siberian elm is a medium-sized tree and can reach 60 feet in height and can spread to 50 feet across. It has an open, rounded crown with long, spreading, horizontal branches. Branches tend to droop as the tree matures. The wood is rather brittle and storm damage is common. Large limbs can sometimes break at the crotch, due to poor collar development.
The plant prefers full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Siberian elm is tough and will tolerate a range of adverse conditions including drought conditions, poor soil quality, and challenging weather conditions. Propagation can be by either seed, cuttings or layering.
While the Siberian elm can be grown as an ornamental and for windbreaks and lumber, planting it is now discouraged by conservation and governmental organizations including the U.S. Forestry Service and the Plant Conservation Alliance, due to its invasive behavior. The wood it produces is relatively coarse and considered inferior to other products of comparable cost and availability. Since this tree can also drop limbs without warning, it should be avoided as a landscape plant.