Ulmus thomasii (Rock Elm)

Plant Info
Also known as: Cork Elm
Family:Ulmaceae (Elm)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; hardwood forest, floodplains, river and stream banks
Bloom season:March - May
Plant height:50 to 100 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flower cluster] Loose, pendulous racemes up 1¼ inch long from lateral buds on 1-year-old branches, each with 5 to 13 flowers and appearing before leaves emerge. Flowers have no petals, the green to reddish, cone shaped calyx is only about 1/8 inch wide with 5 to 8 roundish, papery lobes that are hairy around the edges. In the center are 5 to 8 erect, white stamens that are longer than the calyx, the stamen tips initially reddish turning purplish black. A 2-parted, greenish-yellow, feathery style is typically recessed in the calyx tube. Flower stalks are up to 3/8 inch long and minutely hairy.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[scan of leaves] Leaves are simple and alternate, oval to obovate (widest above the middle), 2 to 5 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide, abruptly tapered to a pointed tip, the base rounded to almost straight across and nearly symmetrical, on a short, hairy stalk. Edges are double toothed, the veins straight and not forking towards the tip. The upper surface is medium to dark green, somewhat shiny, typically hairless and smooth or with stiff, short hairs making it rough to the touch; the lower surface is light green and softly hairy, without tufts of hairs in the vein axils.

[photo of twig with leaf and flower buds] Young twigs are hairy, initially green turning reddish brown. Buds are somewhat hairy, pointed at the tip, with brown scales; flower buds are larger and more oval.

[photo of mature trunk] Older branches are hairless, the bark turning gray, becoming thick and corky in the fourth year. Older bark is thick and somewhat spongy, vertical ridges are coarse and interlacing with deep furrows between. Trunks are up to 30 inches diameter at breast height.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a winged seed called a samara: flat, egg shaped to somewhat oblong, ½ to 7/8 inch long, surfaces softly hairy with a dense fringe of hairs around the edge. The tip can be slightly cleft or often hooked off to one side.


Rock Elm is the least common of our three native elm species but is most common in lowland habitats and floodplains in the southern 1/3 of the state. Like our other native elms, it is susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease, so much so it has nearly disappeared from the landscape. It is similar in many ways to our other elms, but one only has to notice the thick, corky ridged branches to easily distinguish it.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Native Plant Society

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds
  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants

More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Hennepin counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.