10 Elm Species You Should Know About

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, some of which have been popular landscape trees for centuries. Elms typically have oval, serrated-edge leaves arranged alternately on the branches. 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. Elms are prolific samara producers and can be invasive if the growing conditions are right. Despite the well publicized problems with Dutch elm disease, not all elms are susceptible.

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

Here are 10 elm tree species you should know about.

Landscaping Tip

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 focused on planting only one species of elm, the American elm (Ulmus americana). As with the Irish potato famine of the 19th century, the lack of diversity proved fatal, and many American elm trees have succumbed to Dutch elm disease.


However, there are a number of recent cultivars of the American elm bred to be resistant to Dutch elm disease. If you like the classic appearance of the American elm but are afraid of tempting the elm beetle, try 'Valley Forge,' 'Princeton,' 'Prairie Expedition,' 'New Harmony,' and 'St. Croix.'

  • 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 40–75 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.'

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2–9
    • Height: 60–90 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: 5–7
    • Height: 15–25 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: 6–9
    • Height: 50–70 feet
    • Sun Exposure: 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: 4–8
    • Height: 60–80 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 the Chinese elm can be substituted for American elm 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: 5–9
    • Height: 40–50 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. This elm tree prefers moist wetlands areas and has trouble growing in areas outside of its native regions.

    • Native Area: China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Siberia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8 (depending on variety)
    • Height: 30–50 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, up to 3 feet per year, and is one of the tallest elm trees. It can have a canopy spread up to 50 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, but the wood is rather weak, limiting its appeal as a landscape tree.

    • Native Area: Western and southern Europe, Britain
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8
    • Height: 130 feet or more
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 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 southeast Europe, Caucasus
    • USDA ​Growing Zones: 5–9
    • Height: 100 feet or more
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    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 40 feet. Ideal conditions for its growth are fun sun and well-drained, nutrient-poor soil. In North America, it has become an 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: 4–9 (sometimes hardy in zone 3)
    • Height: 50–70 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. 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 southern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Height: 40–60 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dutch elm disease. The Morton Arboretum

  2. Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series: Elm. Purdue University Extension

  3. Ulmus crassifolia. US Department of Agriculture

  4. Mittempergher, L; Santini, A. The history of elm breedingInvestigacion Agraria: Sistemas y Recursos Forestales, 13 (1): 161–177, 2004

  5. Elm cultivars. The Morton Arboretum 

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

  7. Siberian Elm. US Department of Agriculture

  8. Ulmus rubra. Missouri Botanical Garden