Ode to the Elm

Elms, a mixture of deciduous (annual shedding of leaves) and semi-deciduous trees, are categorized as members of the genus Ulmus and the family Ulmaceae. Botany and horticulture suggest that there are between 35 and 45 species of elms distributed throughout temperate regions with 5 species known to Florida. Among them are the Ulmas alata (Winged), Ulmas americana (American), Ulmus crassifolia (Cedar), Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese), and Ulmus rubra (Slippery).

Typically sought after for their texture, shape, and ability to stand stately while providing shade and adding to the land values, the elm species has been seriously impacted by rampant spread of Dutch Elm Disease. One species seemingly resistant to its impact is Ulmus parvifolia – the Chinese Elm. Native to eastern Asia and often referred to as the “lacebark elm”, the Chinese Elm are typically small to medium size trees reaching heights between 40 to 70 feet. The nickname “lacebark” refers to the tendency of the outer bark peeling back to reveal a different colored layer underneath.

The most popular species of trees for Bonsai – an eastern Asian art form centered on peace, harmony and balance, the Chinese Elm “forms a graceful, upright, rounded canopy of long, arching, and somewhat weeping branches which are clothed with one to two and a half-inch-long, shiny, dark green leaves. Some specimens grow in the typical vase-shaped elm form” (Gilman et al., 1993; 2018). It prefers full sun to partial shade, can sustain most soil types, has a high drought tolerance, and propagation is by seed, summer cuttings, or grafts.


Gilman, E. F., Watson, D. G., Klien, R. W., Koeser, A. K., Hilbert, D. R., & McLean, D. C. (1993; 2018). Ulmus parvifolia: Chinese Elm. Retrieved from: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st652

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (1998; 2019). Ulmacea. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/plant/Ulmaceae

Wunderlin, R. P., B. F. Hansen, A. R. Franck, and F. B. Essig. 2020. Atlas of Florida Plants (http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/). [S. M. Landry and K. N. Campbell (application development), USF Water Institute.] Institute for Systematic Botany, University of South Florida, Tampa.

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