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Publication #ENH-805

Ulmus alata: Winged Elm1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2


Usually seen at 40 to 50 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, winglike 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. 

Young Ulmus alata: winged elm


Ed Gilman, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

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 (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: little invasive potential
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
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Figure 2. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


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


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: double serrate, serrate
Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), ovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: less than 2 inches, 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: showy

Figure 3. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Flower color: green
Flower characteristics: not showy


Fruit shape: oval
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: brown
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches don't droop; not showy; typically one trunk; thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: gray, brown
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun, or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; extended flooding; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate


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 prunings 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.



This document is ENH-805, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; and Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, 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.