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Publication #ENH-806

Ulmus americana: American Elm1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2


This native North American tree grows quickly when young, forming a broad or upright, vase-shaped silhouette, 80 to 100 feet high and 60 to 120 feet wide. Trunks on older trees could reach to seven feet across. The six-inch-long, deciduous leaves are dark green throughout the year, fading to yellow before dropping in fall. In early spring, before the new leaves unfold, the rather inconspicuous, small, green flowers appear on pendulous stalks. These blooms are followed by green, wafer-like seedpods which mature soon after flowering is finished and the seeds are quite popular with both birds and wildlife. American elm must be at least 15-years-old before it will bear seed. The copious amount of seeds can create a mess on hard surfaces for a period of time. Trees have an extensive but shallow root system.

Figure 1. 

Middle-aged Ulmus americana: American elm


Ed Gilman, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Ulmus americana
Pronunciation: UL-mus uh-mair-ih-KAY-nuh
Common name(s): American elm
Family: Ulmaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 2A through 9B (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: little invasive potential
Uses: reclamation; urban tolerant; specimen
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Figure 2. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 70 to 90 feet
Spread: 50 to 70 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: vase
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: fast
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: double serrate
Leaf shape: oblong, ovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches, 4 to 8 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: round
Fruit length: less than .5 inch, .5 to 1 inch
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: green
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; not showy; fruit/leaves 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: susceptible to breakage
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: 0.50


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: can form large surface roots
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: tolerant
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: susceptible
Pest resistance: sensitive to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Once a very popular and long-lived (300+ years) shade and street tree, American elm suffered a dramatic decline with the introduction of Dutch elm disease, a fungus spread by a bark beetle. The wood of American elm is very hard and was a valuable timber tree used for lumber, furniture and veneer. The Indians once made canoes out of American elm trunks, and early settlers would steam the wood so it could be bent to make barrels and wheel hoops. It was also used for the rockers on rocking chairs. Today, the wood that can be found is used mainly for making furniture.

American Elm should be grown in full sun on well-drained, rich soil. If you plant American elm, plan on implementing a monitoring program to watch for symptoms of Dutch elm disease. It is vital to the health of existing trees that a program be in place to administer special care to these disease-sensitive trees.

Propagation is by seed or cuttings. Young plants transplant easily.


Many pests may infest American elm, including bark beetles, elm borer, gypsy moth, mites, and scales. Leaf beetles often consume large quantities of foliage.


Many diseases may infect American elm, including Dutch elm disease, phloem necrosis, leaf spot diseases, and cankers. American elm is a host for ganoderma butt rot.



This document is ENH-806, 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.