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Publication #ENH-805

Ulmus alata: Winged Elm1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean2

Introduction

Usually seen at 45 to 70 feet high, winged elm can reach 90 feet in height in the woods with a 30 to 40-foot spread. Canopy form is variable from pyramidal to vase or rounded. A North American native, this fast-growing deciduous tree is quickly identified by the corky, wing-like projections which appear on opposite sides of twigs and branches. Branches rise through the crown, then bend in a sweeping manner toward the ground. The size of the wings varies greatly from one tree to another. Because it is found growing in wet sites as well as dry, rocky ridges it is a very adaptable tree for urban planting.

Figure 1. 

Full Form—Ulmus alata: winged elm


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General Information

Scientific name: Ulmus alata

Pronunciation: UL-mus uh-LAY-tuh

Common name(s): winged elm

Family: Ulmaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 6A through 9B (Figure 2)

Origin: native to the southern two-thirds of the eastern half of the United States

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: Native

Uses: street without sidewalk; shade; specimen; parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100-200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; highway median; reclamation

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 45 to 70 feet

Spread: 30 to 40 feet

Crown uniformity: irregular

Crown shape: pyramidal, vase, oval, upright/erect

Crown density: moderate

Growth rate: fast

Texture: fine

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: double serrate, serrate

Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), ovate

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: deciduous

Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches

Leaf color: dark green on top, paler green underneath with pubescence in the leaf axils

Fall color: yellow

Fall characteristic: showy

Figure 3. 

Leaf—Ulmus alata: winged elm


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Flower

Flower color: reddish

Flower characteristics: not showy; bell-shaped; emerges in clusters at leaf axils

Flowering: early spring

Fruit

Fruit shape: flat, elliptic samara

Fruit length: 3/8 to 1/2 inch

Fruit covering: dry or hard; pubescence around the margins

Fruit color: brown

Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Fruiting: shortly after flowering

Figure 4. 

Fruit—Ulmus alata: winged elm


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Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches don't droop; not showy; typically one trunk; no thorns

Bark: red brown to ashy gray, shallowly fissured, with flat-topped ridges, and corky, wing-like appendages on opposite sides of twigs and branches, although the latter feature may be lacking on older species

Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: gray, brown

Current year twig thickness: thin

Wood specific gravity: unknown

Figure 5. 

Branch—Ulmus alata: winged elm


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Figure 6. 

Bark—Ulmus alata: winged elm


Credit:

Gitta Hasing


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Culture

Light requirement: full sun to partial shade

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; wet to well-drained

Drought tolerance: high

Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate

Other

Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: yes

Outstanding tree: no

Ozone sensitivity: tolerant

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: susceptible

Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Winged elm will easily adapt to full sun or partial shade, growing relatively quickly on any soil. It is an extremely sturdy and adaptable tree and is well-suited as a shade or street tree. It grows very well in urban areas and is suited to parking lot islands and other confined soil spaces. It must be pruned regularly at an early age to eliminate double and multiple trunks. Select branches which form a wide angle with the trunk, eliminating those with narrow crotches. Strive to produce a central trunk with major lateral limbs spaced along the trunk. This trunk will not be straight (unless it is staked) but this is fine. Purchase trees with good form in the nursery and be selective since form varies greatly from one tree to the next.

It is not an easy tree to train and prune, requiring perhaps three or four pruning’s in the first several years after seed germination. Trees look very open and lanky following proper pruning and this may be one reason the tree has not been very popular with nursery operators, architects, and urban foresters. But after this initial training period, trees fill in nicely to make a well-adapted, beautiful shade tree.

Propagation is by seed which, when sown immediately after harvest, germinate quickly and easily.

Pests and Diseases

The biggest problem is Dutch elm disease which can kill trees. To protect the community from widespread tree loss, do not plant a large number of these trees. Some trees are susceptible to powdery mildew, causing varying degrees of leaf color changes in fall, right before leaves drop. Mites can yellow the foliage but usually cause no permanent damage. Scale insects can infest winged elm along branches. Scale infestations are often missed due to the thick, corky bark along the twigs.

Reference

Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH-805, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.