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Also known as the white elm or water elm, American elm has inconspicuous flowers, followed by fruits that ripen in late spring, and beautiful gold fall foliage. Graceful arching branches droop downward, creating a unique vase-like shape, and the perfect nesting site for Baltimore orioles who seek drooping branches for their hanging sack-like nests. Since the introduction of Dutch Elm Disease (DED), we’ve lost 90% of these typically long-lived trees, most often once they reach considerable size. According to Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home (the book that inspired our nursery!), Nature's Best Hope and The Nature of Oaks, we need to continue to plant elms and other trees that are under challenge from introduced pathogens, so the resistant individuals can eventually repopulate. Those trees that perish are typically quite large and still valuable as "dead snags," which are increasingly critical for nesting sites of cavity-dwelling birds and other wildlife, as well as a source of nourishment for insectavorous birds as insects take up residence beneath the loosening bark.


American elms are most often found naturally in moist ground near rivers and streams and in higher elevation flood plains, where soil is well-drained. A fast-growing tree, American elm quickly provides shade, and when planted with successional trees, can provide shade relief for the young saplings that will eventually replace it. Because of DED, these trees are not suitable for smaller lots or urban neighborhoods.


Plant Characteristics:

Can grow to 80’, at a rate of 3-6’ per year, once established.


Plant in full to part sun.


Does best in wet to mostly well-drained, rich soil, but tolerates drought, and clay, loam or sandy soils.


Wildlife Value:

A host plant for the larval stage of 185 species of butterflies and moths in central Ohio, most notably the double-toothed prominent moth, that is reliant completely on elm trees for its survival. Others include the eastern comma, question mark, and mourning cloak butterflies (all 4 pictured here in order of mention, preceded by their caterpillars). The caterpillars of many moths also use the tree as a host, such as the elm, definite tussock, white-lined sphinx and Isabella tiger moths. Deer and rabbits browse the leaves and twigs, and the seeds are eaten by numerous small birds. Flowers and their buds are eaten by mice, squirrels, opposums, ruffed grouse, and northern bobwhite. American elms provide thermal cover and nesting sites for a variety of cavity nesters, and with their wide-spreading roots, they provide erosion control, and prevent silting into streams that can harm wildlife.


Medicinal, Edible and Other Uses:

The bark is used for digestive disorders and diarrhea. An infusion of the root bark is commonly used for coughs and colds.

Elm, American, Ulmus americana

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  • We happily purchase or trade other plant material for locally gathered native seeds. Please provide pictures of the mature plant if possible, ideally fruiting or flowering for best ID.

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