Ulmus pumila (Siberian Elm)

Plant Info
Also known as: Chinese Elm
Family:Ulmaceae (Elm)
Life cycle:perennial woody
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
Habitat:part shade, sun; disturbed soils; urban landscapes, windbreaks, roadsides, railroads, open fields, waste areas
Bloom season:March - May
Plant height:30 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: UPL NCNE: FACU
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 Cluster type: round

[photo of flower cluster] Dense, round clusters 3/8 to ½ inch across from lateral buds on 1-year-old branches, each with 5 to 15 flowers and appearing before leaves emerge. Flowers have no petals, the light green to reddish, cone-shaped calyx is only about 1/8 inch wide with 4 to 5 irregular, papery lobes that wither quickly. In the center is a 2-parted, creamy white, feathery style and 4 to 8 erect, white stamens that are about twice as long as the calyx, the stamen tips initially yellowish turning purplish black. Flower stalks are minute and hairless.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and alternate, lance-elliptic, ¾ to 2½ inches long, 1/3 to 1¼ inches wide, tapering to a pointed tip, flat to rounded and nearly symmetrical at the base, on a very short stalk. Edges are serrated, single toothed, and veins are straight and not forking at the tip. The upper surface dark green and smooth, the lower surface light green, mostly hairless or with tufts of hairs in the vein axils.

[photo of twig with leaf and flower buds] Young twigs are hairy to sparsely hairy, initially green turning gray-brown. Buds are about 1/8 inch long with purplish brown scales that are somewhat hairy, especially around the edges; flower buds are larger, round, and numerous.

[photo of mature trunk] Older branches are hairless, the bark turning gray. Older bark has interlacing ridges and deep furrows, though the inner, orange bark is sometimes visible. Trunks are up to 36 inches diameter at breast height.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a winged seed called a samara: flat, nearly round, 1/3 to 2/3 inch long, surfaces and edges hairless, and the tip cleft with two, small lobes.


Siberian Elm was brought to America in the mid-1800s as a boulevard and windbreak tree. It never gained much popularity, especially when our native American Elm (Ulmus americana) was far superior. While Siberian Elm can grow to a large statured shade tree and is highly resistent to Dutch Elm Disease (DED), it is not as winter hardy as our native elms and all too often it will develop scrappy grow, sun scald, sloughing bark and dead branches, characteristics that earned it the name "piss" elm. Its disease resistance and prolific seed production allowed it to easily naturalize, it's become common in unmanaged marginal areas in the southern 2/3s of the state, and is listed as invasive by the DNR. It is easily distinguished from our native elms by its tiny dormant buds and fine, twiggy branches, smaller leaves and completely hairless fruits. It will naturally hybridize with our native Red Elm (Ulmus rubra), which will show a range of intermediate characteristics such as larger buds, leaves and flower clusters, reddish styles and fruits with short, glandular hairs in the center. One might expect these hybrids to be more DED resistent, which would give them a distinct advantage over our native trees.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties.


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

Posted by: Ellen S. - Hennepin County - Edina, Pamela Park
on: 2016-10-29 15:34:40

I found a small tree in the park that is similar to this, but I'm not sure of the identification. The plant is so short that I don't know if the small leaves are only due to youth, and they are rough on top instead of smooth.

Posted by: Diane - Otsego
on: 2017-09-13 15:13:10

Ellen I'm sure you are looking at a Siberian Elm. Our native American Elm has large leaves at birth even when it has one skinny little trunk and no limbs. The S.elm get short and bushy and nearly impossible to kill.I planted a hedge of them 25-30 yrs ago (stupid me) and later was told about them. We cut them down several yrs ago, sprayed them with brush killer and they keep sprouting!and they are coming up wherever there is no mowing. Prolific seeders. We're chipping the stumps out this fall hoping that will do it and I'm going to ask my neighbor if I can spray the ones in his field and later cut them down. Call the park maint dept and meet them there or mark it so they can find it and if they don't get rid of it take your weed killer on your next walk-for several years. I'm sure they don't even know it's there

Posted by: Anna - Minneapolis
on: 2018-05-06 07:45:19

I've got this in my backyard and it is just as stubborn and unattractive as described

Posted by: Greg - Wadena county
on: 2018-09-09 09:37:45

I remember back in the late 60s my dad was cutting some of these down . His reference was as indicated in your description " Piss Elm".

Posted by: Darrick Wotachek - Cambridge
on: 2019-02-01 14:13:21

My neighbor has a hedgerow of these trees and they produce unending amount of seeds that blow into my garden and I have received multiple complaints from rural landowners wishing this was on the Noxious Weed List in MN. I know I would support this species being put on the control list.

Posted by: Brian Schreiber
on: 2019-09-10 10:15:31

I was thinking I had a rock elm but then finally found this website showing the main elm species in Minnesota(Big Lake, Mn my location). Certainly, this IS what I have on my property. Millions of seedling cropping up under the tree, same more pointed leaflets. Lots of small leaves, looks bushy but same bark as any main stream elm tree. Same green color as any main stream elm tree too, so the color shown in this description appears to be "off". However, not sure if my tree has genetic disfunction or what but SOME of the veins on the leaves fork, most go directly to the tip. I notice that in EVERY description of any Elm tree leaf the veins are being described as running to the leaf perimeter with NO forking. So,if 5% of them do, does that eliminate it. I am thinking NO. Interesting to hear a "pro's" point of view on this.

Posted by: Rita Moe - Northwest corner of Roseville
on: 2019-10-16 09:00:31

Siberian elm seedlings have been sprouting in my garden for the last two years in plentiful supply. I pull them as weeds as soon as I find them. So far, I haven't located the mature tree in the neighborhood that is producing the seeds.

Posted by: Julie - Brooklyn Park
on: 2020-05-05 00:21:19

So thankful for this site. Now I know what ridiculously spreading "wants to grow everywhere" kind of tree that that I have in back yard. I Keep pulling seedling from ALL over my back yard

Posted by: Peter Torvik - Hopkins
on: 2021-06-05 19:23:25

We love ours. Over 80 feet tall. Had it trimmed last spring. With the elms dead and mature oaks falling by the wayside, cant afford to lose big trees!

Posted by: Hagen Gamradt - Saint Cloud
on: 2023-06-30 13:33:21

These trees are everywhere in Saint Cloud now. They grow out of all kinds of things like cracks in power line poles, play ground mulch, sidewalk cracks, and along just about every street in Saint Cloud with disturbed soil. I have biked, walked, long-boarded, and driven to every corner of Saint Cloud and noticed it is everywhere here.

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