American elm

(Ulmus americana)

Conservation Status
American elm
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5? - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FAC - Facultative


FACW - Facultative wetland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACW - Facultative wetland


American elm is a fast growing deciduous tree in the White Elm group. In Minnesota mature trees are usually 50 to 70 tall. Large individuals can reach up to 125 in height and 60 in diameter at breast height. It was once a long-lived tree, often reaching 200 years. However, the wilt fungus Dutch Elm Disease (Ceratocystis ulmi) usually kills most trees before they are 30 years old. Saplings are immune to the disease.

The trunk is buttressed at the base with prominent root flares. It extends to the base of the crown, dividing there into a few large, upright, spreading limbs. The branches are gracefully spreading and droop at the ends. The crown is broad and rounded or vase-shaped.

The bark on young trees is dark grayish-brown and corky, with broad, shallow, intersecting ridges. On older trees it is mottled ash gray, deeply furrowed, and sometimes scaly. In cross section outer bark shows alternating layers of white and reddish brown.

The twigs are brown, often zigzagging, and hairless or slightly hairy, with conspicuous lenticels. Older twigs are never corky. The buds are reddish-brown, somewhat flattened, pointed but not sharply pointed, and slightly hairy. The end bud is bent, other buds are pressed against the twig.

The leaves are deciduous, alternate, and simple, and are attached to the twig on a 3 16 long leaf stalk. The blades are thick, elliptic to egg-shaped, 2¾ to 5½ long, and 1 to 2¾ wide. They taper gradually to a point at the tip with straight or concave sides along the tip. The base is asymmetrical, rounded on one side, tapering on the other. The upper surface is dark green and smooth or slightly rough. The lower surface is paler green and slightly hairy, often fuzzy. The margins are doubly toothed from the tip to the base, the major teeth deeper and forward pointing. There are 15 to 20 prominent veins on each side of the central axis. The veins are straight and end in a large tooth. No more than 2 or 3 veins per side are forked. In the fall the leaves turn yellow.

The flowers have both male and female parts. They are borne in small, loose, tassel-like clusters on previous year’s twigs. They appear in early April to early mid-May before the leaves. They have no petals, 7 to 9 stamens with red anthers, and deeply-divided stigmas covered with short, white hairs. They are on to ¾ long flower stalks.

The fruit is a samara consisting of a dry, flattened, papery, oval, to ½ in diameter wing surrounding a seed seed case containing 1 seed. It has a fringe of yellow or white hairs along the margin but is otherwise hairless. The tip is deeply notched. The wing is not inflated and the seed case is distinct from the wing.




50 to 70




The champion American elm in Minnesota is on private property near Minneapolis, in Hennepin County. In 2010 it was measured at 80 tall and 228 in circumference (72½ in diameter), with a crown spread of 87.


Flower Color




Similar Species


Rock elm (Ulmus thomasii) trunk is distinct almost to the top of the tree. The branches are often crooked and gnarled. Older twigs have prominent corky ridges. The leaves are shiny and smooth to the touch. The margins have incurved teeth. The leaf veins are rarely forked. The buds diverge from the twig, are sharp pointed, and are plump, not flattened. Flowers and fruits are in clusters with a central stem. The samara is pointed, shallowly notched, and hairy, not just fringed with hairs. It is inflated, the seed case not distinct.

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) bark layers in cross section are uniformly brown. The leaves have several forked veins. The upper leaf surface is hairy and very rough to the touch. The buds are blunt, not pointed, dark brown, and covered with conspicuous orange or reddish-brown hairs. The samara is round with a slightly notched tip and a line that extends from the base to the notch at the tip. It does not have a fringe of hairs on the margin.


Moist. Deciduous forests, well-drained floodplains. Moderately shade tolerant.




Early April to early mid-May


Pests and Diseases


Elm finger gall mite (Aceria parulmi) creates erect, finger-like galls, up to ½ in height, on the upper leaf surface.

Elm bead gall mite (Aceria campestricola) creates low, bead-like galls on the upper leaf surface.

Elm leafminer (Fenusa ulmi) creates mines in the leaves in the spring. The damaged portion turns brown and falls off.




Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 24, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Rosanae  


Rosales (roses, elms, figs, and allies)  


Ulmaceae (elm)  


Ulmus (elms)  
  Subgenus Oreoptelea  
  Section Blepharocarpus  

Subordinate Taxa






Ulmus americana f. alba

Ulmus americana f. ascendens

Ulmus americana f. columnaris

Ulmus americana f. intercedens

Ulmus americana f. laevior

Ulmus americana f. pendula

Ulmus americana f. viridis

Ulmus americana var. aspera

Ulmus americana var. floridana

Ulmus floridana


Common Names


American elm

soft elm

water elm

white elm













A slim, cylindrical, drooping cluster of many flowers. The flowers have no petals and are either male or female but not both.



A corky, round or stripe-like, usually raised, pore-like opening in bark that allows for gas exchange.



A dry fruit consisting of a seed attached to a papery wing; one seeded in Elms and Ashes, two-seeded in Maples.


Simple leaf

A leaf that is not divided into leaflets, though it may be deeply lobed or cleft.



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American elm, front and back. Freeborn County, MN, June 2017

    American elm      

Winter silhouette, American elm

    American elm      

American elm near MN/IA border

    American elm      


    American elm      


    American elm   American elm  
    American elm      



  Ulmus americana
Blake C. Willson
  Ulmus americana  

American elm

  American Elm
  American Elm  
  American Elm
  American Elm  
  Elm Tree
Andree Reno Sanborn
  Elm Tree  

Ulmus americana

  American Elm

Uploaded on May 18, 2008

A video about an american elm




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Other Videos
  Trees with Don Leopold - American elm

Uploaded on Oct 21, 2011

No description available.

  American Elm Video

Published on Apr 26, 2012

Dutch Elm Disease and research on disease resistance.




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June, 2017

Location: Freeborn County, MN

American elm, front and back.

American elm  

Winter silhouette, American elm

American elm  

Location: near MN/IA border

American elm  

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