slippery elm

(Ulmus rubra)

Conservation Status
slippery elm
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FAC - Facultative

  Northcentral & Northeast

FAC - Facultative


Slippery elm is a fast growing deciduous tree in the Mountain Elm group. In Minnesota mature trees are usually 50 to 70 tall. Large individuals can reach up to 135 in height and 48 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 divides at or below the base of the crown into a few large, upright, widely spreading limbs. The principle branches curve upwards then spread out. The crown is broad and flat-topped.

The bark on young trees is brownish gray and corky. On older trees it is reddish-brown, shallowly fissured with flat, nearly vertical scaly ridges. In cross section outer bark layers are entirely reddish brown.

The twigs are grayish-brown to dark gray, moderately stout, and hairy, with prominent lenticels. The buds are dark reddish-brown, blunt, and covered with conspicuous orange or reddish-brown hairs.

The leaves are deciduous, alternate, and simple, and are attached to the twig on a 3 16 long leaf stalk. The blades are thick, egg-shaped or inversely egg-shaped, 3 to 6 long, and 2 to 3 wide. They taper gradually to a point at the tip with concave sides along the tip. The base is asymmetrical, rounded on one side, tapering on the other. The upper surface is dark green, hairy, and very rough. The lower surface is paler green and hairy, often fuzzy. The margins are singly toothed on the lower half or quarter, doubly toothed from there to the tip, the major teeth deeper and forward pointing. There are about 15 prominent veins on each side of the central axis. The veins are straight and end in a large tooth. Several veins are forked. In the fall the leaves turn yellow.

The flowers have both male and female parts. They are borne in small, dense clusters of 8 to 20 almost stalkless flowers on previous year’s twigs. They appear in late March to late mid-May before the leaves. They have no petals, 5 to 9 stamens with reddish anthers, and pink reddish stigmas.

The fruit is a samara consisting of a dry, flattened, papery, almost round, to in diameter wing surrounding a seed seed case containing 1 seed. It is hairy on the surface but does not have a fringe of hairs on the margin. The tip is shallowly notched. There is a line that extends from the base to the notch at the tip. The wing is not inflated and the seed case is distinct from the wing.




50 to 70




The champion slippery elm in Minnesota is on private property near Minneapolis, in Hennepin County. In 2019 it was measured at 86 tall and 236 in circumference (75.1 in diameter), with a crown spread of 90.75.


Flower Color




Similar Species


American elm (Ulmus americana) branches are gracefully spreading. The buds are appressed to the twig, sharp pointed, are flattened. No more than 2 or 3 leaf veins are forked. Flowers and fruits are on long stalks. The samara is deeply notched and hairless except for a fringe of hairs along the margin. It is not inflated, and the seed case is distinct.

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. The margins have incurved teeth. The leaf veins are rarely forked. The buds are sharp pointed. Flowers and fruits are in clusters with a central stem. The samara is pointed, shallowly notched, and hairy, with an additional fringe of hairs along the margin. It is inflated, the seed case not distinct.


Moist. Deciduous forests, stream banks, floodplains. Full sun or light shade.




Late March to late mid-May


Pests and Diseases


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 Ulmus  
  Section Ulmus  

Subordinate Taxa





  Ulmus fulva  

Common Names


gray elm

red elm

slippery elm

soft elm

water 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.

Visitor Photos

Share your photo of this plant.

  This button not working for you?
Simply email us at
Attach one or more photos and, if you like, a caption.



Slippery elm in an old growth grove near MN/IA border, Nov. 2016

    slippery elm   slippery elm  
    slippery elm   slippery elm  

Slippery elm trunk

    slippery elm      

Slippery elm bark

    slippery elm      
    slippery elm      






Visitor Videos

Share your video of this plant.

  This button not working for you?
Simply email us at
Attach a video, a YouTube link, or a cloud storage link.


Other Videos
  Trees with Don Leopold - slippery elm

Published on Jun 27, 2012


  How to find the right tree (Slippery Elm tree identification) when hunting for morel mushrooms.
Craig Smedley

Published on Apr 25, 2013

This shows the perfect slippery elm tree that you look for when hunting for morel mushrooms. Also the American Elm and Yellow Poplar are good trees to look for in the Midwest.






Last Updated:

© All rights reserved.

About Us

Privacy Policy

Contact Us