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ULMUS rubra

Image of Ulmus rubra

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Ulmaceae

Botanical Name

ULMUS rubra

Plant Common Name

Slippery Elm

General Description

A common elm found across the whole of eastern North American from Quebec, Canada down to Texas, slippery elm is a tough, adaptable species that's quite hardy. Though still sensitive to Dutch Elm disease, it is more prevalent in the wild than its sister species, the American elm (Ulmus americana). It is a deciduous tree of medium height that develops a broad, somewhat vase-shaped crown with age. Wild populations favor lowland sites and floodplains where soils are moist and rich, but trees may also be found growing on drier, more upland ground.

A broad but shallow root system helps trees survive seasonal wet spells. In spring, slippery elm puts forth lots of deep green leaves that are toothed along the edges and scratchy to the touch. The leaves are oblique at the base, a characteristic of all plants in Ulmaceae. The name "rubra", meaning red, does not refer to fall leaf color but the red inner bark of the tree. Late-season leaf color is actually dusty yellow. Lots of inconspicuous wind-pollinated flowers are produced in early spring. The fruits that follow are oval winged samaras that are eaten by birds and small mammals.

Slippery elm is a native tree best-suited to natural areas. It is quite shade-tolerant but develops its prettiest habit when grown in an open sunny spot. It may sucker from the base, especially if damaged or stricken with disease. Aside from Dutch elm disease, which can kill slippery elms, elm yellows and elm phloem necrosis are also serious problems. Hungry deer also strip the bark from young trees in winter.

Slippery elm has been hybridized with other elm species, such as Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila), to produce tougher, more attractive trees better-adapted to the landscape.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    10 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    3 - 10

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    60'-70' / 18.3m - 21.3m

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Spring

  • Native To

    North America, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, North-Central United States, Central United States, South-Central United States, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Upright/Erect

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Tan, Sandy Brown

  • Fruit Color

    Green, Sandy Brown

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Yellow, Green

  • Bark Color

    Sandy Brown, Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Fissured

  • Usage

    Shade Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes