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Chinese Elm Leaf Identification

The Chinese elm, also as the lacebark or little leaf elm, is a deciduous tree that is commonly used in landscaping. The plant can thrive in a wide range of soil conditions and can grow in all the coldest areas of the United States. The round canopy, weeping branches, attractive bark and fine, dark green leaves make it a desirable addition to both urban and suburban settings.


The tree can grow to 50 feet tall and spread just as wide. The branches and leaves of the tree create a rounded or vase-shaped form. The canopy is relatively dense with a fine texture, due to the small leaf size.


Chinese elm trees have simple, flat leaves without lobes or spurs. They are oval in shape with a pointed end that tapers sharply. The margins, or edges, of each leaf are serrated. The central rib runs down the length of the leaf, with opposite-facing veins projecting straight out into the leaf, branching slightly toward the margins.

Size and Features

Each leaf ranges between one and two inches in length and 1/4 to 1/2 inch in width. The stems of the leaves are usually only 1/8 to 1/4 inch in length. The surface is generally glossy and smooth. The texture of the leaves is somewhat leathery.

Growth Habit

The leaves of Chinese elm form in a tight, alternating pattern along the long, thin, brown or gray branches of the tree. They grow close to the branches with leaf stems that are very short. Chinese elm trees are often the last to drop their leaves in the fall and they are often evergreen in the southernmost parts of the U.S.


On first emergence leaf coloring is light green or yellow, becoming darker as the growing season progresses. Some cultivars may exhibit lighter green, yellowish or even white margins. Fall colors of the Chinese elm tree are very showy. The tree commonly produces leaves that range from yellow and orange to red and purple. Some cultivars are all one color, such as "Golden Rey," which produces bright yellow fall foliage. Others produce more multicolored leaves.

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