The American elm (Ulmus americana) used to be the dominant feature in American landscapes east of the Rockies, and it ruled supreme as the shade tree of choice for generations of Americans prior to World War II. In fact, these large, graceful specimens with their upright, vase-shaped habit shaded so many American streets, that “Elm Street” is generally believed to be the most common street name in the country. Unfortunately, in the early 1930s, a fungal infection borne in beetles was introduced into the US in a shipment of lumber from Europe. This fungus – later labeled Dutch elm disease (DED) – turned into a deadly and catastrophic blight, wiping out tens of millions of American elms.

Mature Princeton Elm

Mature ‘Princeton’ elms can reach 80-100 feet tall.

Photo Credit: Riveredge Farms

Elms on Pennsylvania Ave

Princeton’ American elms line Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

Photo Credit: Riveredge Farms

15 gallon Princeton Elm

This 15-gallon elm should grow 3-6 feet a year in its early stages.

Photo Credit: Riveredge Farms

Princeton Elm fall color

Your fall can turn golden thanks to the yellow autumn leaves of ‘Princeton’.

Photo Credit: Riveredge Farms

Decades passed, but there didn’t seem to be a suitable replacement for the American elm that had the same beauty, grace and remarkable ability to thrive in such a vast geographic and climatic range. (And chemical treatments and horticultural practices intended to save surviving elms from DED only proved to be costly short-term solutions.)

But then there was hope.

In the mid-1990s, Roger Holloway, a wholesale nursery professional from Georgia, heard about surviving American elms that still lined streets in Princeton, NJ. These trees, planted in the 1920s, appeared unaffected by DED – even though virtually all of the other elms in the surrounding area had been wiped out. It turns out that these trees were actually an American elm cultivar called Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’, and that USDA testing indicated that the tree was highly resistant to DED.

‘Princeton’ American elm is a wonderful shade tree with superior horticultural and ornamental features. It has large, leathery foliage that turns yellow in fall, the classic American elm vase shape, and it’s remarkably resistant to most diseases and pests common in large shade trees. In fact, roads lined with ‘Princeton’ elms planted in 1932 remain in perfect and picturesque condition today – 75 years later – with a survival rate of over 95 percent. Considering that the average life expectancy of some shade trees planted today is only seven to 12 years – and that DED virtually wiped out all of the other surrounding American elms in the Princeton area – the vigorous survival of these ‘Princeton’ American elms is nothing short of remarkable!

If you have deciduous shade trees (like oaks) in your area and you’re wondering what to plant in your own landscape, then ‘Princeton’ American elm is an excellent selection for you. In most areas, the tree can grow 3-6 feet a year during its early development, and depending on site selection, it may eventually grow as tall as 80-100 feet. It can be planted virtually year-round in almost all soil types in many parts of the country. (In cooler climates, the planting season is from April through October.) It’s cold-hardy in the bitter cold of the Northern Plains, but it’s also at home in the sweltering heat of central Florida and central Texas. (And it thrives in all regions in between.) What’s more, ‘Princeton’ elm thrives in virtually all environmental conditions, including wet, dry and windy. It also can survive in salty air and partial shade and is extremely tolerant of harsh, polluted urban conditions.

Riveredge Farms in Atlanta, GA, began aggressively cloning this elm in 1997 by taking cuttings and rooting them on their own root in specially designed propagation houses. Now in 2007, the company has tens of thousands ‘Princeton’ American elms in production (and other disease-resistant varieties that may prove worthwhile). Plantings all over the country have been so successful and popular, that Riveredge Farms is now able to supply these trees through mass merchant outlets east of the Rockies, and it will have a national rollout in the spring of 2009.

Its wonderful ornamental characteristics, DED resistance and adaptability to harsh conditions makes this tree a real winner in the landscape! (Perhaps our national nightmare on Elm Street may be finally coming to an end…)