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

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