Ulmus pumila (Siberian Elm)
|Also known as:||Chinese Elm|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Please visit our sponsors
Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Siberian Elm tree
- mature Siberian Elm tree
- young Siberian Elm tree
- escapees often start out with a shrubby appearance
- bark of young tree
- more leaves
- mature samara has papery wings
- flowering branches
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?