10 Elm Species You Should Know About

Identifying Elm Trees by Leaves, Bark, and Size

English elm tree with thick tree trunk and branches with green leaves

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Elm trees are members of the Ulmus genus in the Ulmaceae family of plants. There are 30 to 40 species of deciduous trees within the genus, and some types of elm trees have been popular landscape trees for centuries. Elms are prolific samara (fruiting) producers and can be invasive if the growing conditions are right.


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Elm tree wood tends to be strong, durable, and resistant to weather and rot, even when submerged in water for long periods. Because of those characteristics, elm has long been used to make ship keels, piers, archery bows, and furniture.

Read on to learn how to identify and grow 10 types of elm trees.

Elm Tree Identification

Elm trees look like the common shade trees you may have seen lining streets in many American cities and towns; they are tall with large spreading canopies. Elm tree leaves are typically oval with serrated edges. The leaves are arranged alternately on the branches. Some species have leaves with a rough side, others have leaves that are velvety on both sides, and most (but not all) elm tree bark is rough. Most species produce flowers that develop into fruiting bodies, called samaras, each containing one seed. Unlike the familiar helicopter samaras produced by maple trees, those from elm trees are circular or oval.


Unfortunately, in North America and Europe, elm trees have fallen out of favor due to Dutch elm disease (DED), first encountered in the United States during the 1930s. In many areas of the U.S., land developers and landscapers considered elms as good trees that could withstand harsh street conditions, and lined countless streets with the American elm (Ulmus americana). But many trees succumbed to the disease.

There are now several cultivars of the American elm resistant to Dutch elm disease, such as 'Valley Forge', 'Princeton', 'Prairie Expedition', 'New Harmony', and 'St. Croix'.

Despite the well-publicized problems with DED, not all elms are susceptible to the disease.

  • 01 of 10

    American Elm (Ulmus americana)

    Green American elm tree branch
    ellefox / Getty Images

    The state tree of both Massachusetts and North Dakota, the American elm is a classic: a tall shade tree with a vase-shaped canopy spread of 40 feet to 75 feet. Although this is the hallmark species most devastated by Dutch elm disease, it has made a comeback over the years as horticulturists have developed cultivars that better withstand the disease, including 'Valley Forge', 'Princeton', 'Lewis and Clark', and 'Jefferson'. An American elm tree can be identified by not only its huge size but also by its long oval (3 inches or more) and double-serrated leaves.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
    • Height: 60 to 90 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 02 of 10

    Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii')

    Green foliage of the camperdown elm
    pcturner71 / Getty Images

    The camperdown elm is a weeping variety of the wych elm that requires propagation by grafting. The trailing, twisting branches and dense foliage can create a lovely hidden area underneath. Unlike other elms, it has a flatter canopy that can spread wider than its height. This species prefers moist soil, so keep it well irrigated in times of drought.

    • Native Area: United Kingdom
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Height: 15 to 25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 03 of 10

    Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)

    Green and yellow cedar elm leaves
    TrongNguyen / Getty Images

    The cedar elm is a good choice for urban areas because it tolerates pollution, drought, and poor soil. It has the smallest elm leaves of any species. Although it bears no similarity to the cedar tree, it earned its common name because it's frequently found growing near junipers, sometimes known as cedars. The most common elm variety found in Texas, the cedar elm tree is susceptible to Dutch elm disease, though not as much as the American elm.

    • Native Area: Southern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Height: 50 to 70 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Part to full
  • 04 of 10

    Cherry-Bark Elm (Ulmus villosa)

    Cherry-bark elm with green foliage

    Ronnie Nijboer/Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

    With a lifespan of up to 100 years, the cherry-bark elm is a large, bushy tree with an overall round shape. It has smooth bark and samaras that are elliptical rather than round. The cherry-bark elm has proven to be less susceptible to Dutch elm disease than other elm trees.

    • Native Area: Eastern Asia, Himalayas
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 60 to 80 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

    Green Chinese elm leaves
    photohomepage / Getty Images

    The Chinese elm has a rounded shape and distinctive exfoliating bark in shades of brown, gray, green, and orange. It adapts to many types of soil and prefers moist but well-drained conditions. While a Chinese elm can be substituted for an American elm tree to avoid Dutch elm disease, it does share the same vase shape as the American species. Because the Chinese elm can be successfully grown even if heavily pruned, it's a common choice for bonsai.

    • Native Area: China, Japan, North Korea, Vietnam
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 40 to 50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 06 of 10

    David Elm (Ulmus davidiana)

    David elm with green foliage

    Ptelea/Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

    The David elm is a small deciduous tree with a dense canopy. This species is extremely important in the effort to create elm cultivars that are resistant to Dutch elm disease, serving as a parent to many hybrids.

    • Native Area: China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Siberia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8 (depending on variety)
    • Height: 30 to 50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 07 of 10

    English Elm (Ulmus procera)

    English elm tree with thick trunk and sprawling branches with green leaves

     The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    The English elm grows very fast and can have a canopy spread up to 40 feet. This species reproduces through suckers instead of seeds and was abundant in England before the advent of Dutch elm disease. The English elm has a good tolerance for salty soils and urban pollution. The upper surface of its leaves is roughly hairy.

    • Native Area: Western and southern Europe, Britain
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 130 feet or more
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial shade
  • 08 of 10

    European White Elm (Ulmus laevis)

    Grayish-green leaves of a European white elm


    weisschr / Getty Images

    The European white elm, sometimes known in the United States as the Russian elm, is a fast-growing tree with a broad, open oval crown that eventually becomes round. In its native environment, this elm tree is found in floodplains and along river banks. Therefore, it grows well in moist planting areas because it can withstand bouts of wetness and flooding. Unfortunately, it can be susceptible to Dutch elm disease. Yet, the elm bark beetle, which is responsible for spreading the disease, tends to avoid the European white elm.

    • Native Area: Central and Eastern Europe
    • USDA ​Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 100 feet or more
    • Sun Exposure: Full to dappled shade
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila)

    Green branches of the Siberian elm
    Jozsef Zoltan Varga / Getty Images

    The Siberian elm is a small-to-medium-sized deciduous tree. It grows fast, up to 3 feet per year, with a canopy spread of about 50 feet. Ideal conditions for its growth include full sun and well-drained, nutrient-poor soil. In some parts of North America, it has become a borderline invasive species because it's tenacious and can grow almost anywhere. But don't automatically rule out this elm tree for your landscape. It can be a good choice for places where other trees and shrubs can't grow, and it's resistant—though not immune—to Dutch elm disease.

    • Native Area: Eastern Siberia, Korea, Tibet, India, Mongolia, northern China
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Height: 50 to 70 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 10 of 10

    Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

    Yellow-green leaves on a slippery elm
    ablokhin / Getty Images

    Slippery elm is a medium-sized deciduous tree with a crown that ranges from vase-shaped to broad and rounded. The species name, rubra, hints that some part of the tree is red. In the case of the slippery elm, its inner bark is red and its blooms are reddish-green. It is known for having rough leaves. Meanwhile, the name comes from the mucilage (sticky secretion) found in the inner bark. Unfortunately, this species is susceptible to Dutch elm disease and phloem necrosis and therefore isn't recommended for home landscapes.

    • Native Area: Central and Eastern U.S. and southern Ontario
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Height: 40 to 60 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
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  1. Cassens, D. Elm. Purdue University.

  2. Dutch Elm Disease. The Morton Arboretum.

  3. Ulmus crassifolia: Cedar Elm. US Department of Agriculture.

  4. Dutch Elm Disease. University of Minnesota Extension.

  5. Elm cultivars. The Morton Arboretum.

  6. Baker, J. Smaller European Elm Bark Beetle. North Carolina State University Extension Publications.

  7. Ulmus Pumila. NC State Extension.

  8. Ulmus rubra. Missouri Botanical Garden.