Common Name: Chinese Elm, Lacebark Elm
Scientific Name: Ulmus parvifolia
Habit: Mature Chinese elm trees can reach a height of 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 m) with a spread of 35 to 50 feet (10 ½ to 15 m). Their overall habit varies from a vase shape to a more rounded shape (Figure 1). They have a moderate crown density. (1)
Figure 1: Mature Chinese elm in the front lawn of a residential property.
Leaves: The leaves of Chinese elm are usually a dark green color, glossy in texture, and are arranged alternately (Figure 2). The leaf blades are 1 to 2 ½ inches (2 ½ to 6 ½ cm) long, oval in shape, and have serrated (toothed) edges(1). Chinese elm leaves are deciduous. They turn yellow and brown in the fall and drop in the winter (Figure 3).
Figure 2: Fresh-cut sample of Chinese elm leaves.
Figure 3: Mature Chinese elm with yellowing leaves in the fall.
Twigs & Bark: The twigs of the Chinese elm are greyish brown in color and thin (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Dormant Chinese elm twigs and buds.
The trunk of the tree has a mottled bark that is multicolored with greyish brown and orange and green colors(2). This lace-like texture gives the Chinese elm its alternate name, the Lacebark elm (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Bark on the trunk of Chinese elm.
Flowers & Fruits: The tiny white and green flowers of the Chinese elm (Figure 6) emerge in the early fall and become dry, brown samaras that are disc-shaped and disperse by late fall.
Figure 6: Flowers of a Chinese elm.
A samara is a fruit that has dry, papery tissue that covers the seed and allows it to float on the wind once it falls from the tree. In the Chinese elm’s case, the samara contains a single seed and is about half an inch (1 ¼ cm) in diameter (Figure 7).(2)(3)
Figure 7: Mature Chinese elm fruits (samaras).
Native range: The Chinese elm originated in forests in China, Japan, and Korea but now grows well in certain states in the U.S.A. (Figure 8).(7)(8) It tolerates many soil types including sand, clay, alkaline, acidic, and occasionally wet. It also can do well in full sun or partial shade. It grows aesthetically the best in well-drained, fertile soil but adapts really well to a variety of environments and is drought tolerant.(1)
Figure 8: Map of states in the U.S.A. where Chinese elm trees are commonly found.
Ecological Notes: Chinese elm pollen is transported by wind, and can cause allergies in some people. The fruits of the elm are covered in a dry, papery tissue that, once mature, detach from the tree and float a distance away. This wind dispersal method is ideal for the spreading of the seed away from the parent tree. This tree is known to be a bit messy, with an abundance of samaras falling off at once and littering nearby ground. The tree has good resistance to the Japanese beetle and Dutch elm disease, a fungal disease spread by bark beetles that fatally affects many elm tree species(2)(6).
Like its elm relatives, the Chinese elm’s wide crown but relatively thinner trunk makes it an ideal shade-giving tree for urban settings(2). Although it's widespread and relatively close to the surface roots can occasionally lift sidewalks, this is still one of the most popular urban trees to plant(1), especially for soil-containing islands in parking lots. Parts of the plant have also been used for food additives and medicines(4).
Figure 1. “Ulmus parvifolia / Chinese Elm.” Plant Master, www.plantmaster.com/share/eplant.php?plantnum=24550. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
Figure 2. “Leaves-Close-up-2.” Https://Selectree.calpoly.edu/Tree-Detail/Ulmus-Parvifolia, Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute, selectree.calpoly.edu/tree-detail/ulmus-parvifolia. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
Figure 3. “Tree-fall.” Https://Selectree.calpoly.edu/Tree-Detail/Ulmus-Parvifolia, Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute , selectree.calpoly.edu/tree-detail/ulmus-parvifolia. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
Figure 4. “Dormant twigs and buds.” Ulmus parvifolia, https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/ulmus-parvifolia. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
Figure 5. “Bark” https://Selectree.calpoly.edu/Tree-Detail/Ulmus-Parvifolia, Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
Figure 6. “Chinese elm flowers.” Chinese Elm, Louisiana Plant Identification and Interactive Virtual Tours, www.rnr.lsu.edu/plantid/species/chineselm/chineselm.htm. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
Figure 7. “Chinese elm fruit: mature.” Chinese Elm, Louisiana Plant Identification and Interactive Virtual Tours, www.rnr.lsu.edu/plantid/species/chineselm/chineselm.htm. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.
Figure 8. USDA Plants Database. "Ulmus parvifolia", Plant profile. https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ULPA. Accessed 10, Dec. 2017.Biographer: Giana Mitchell, ‘21, FYS 20: Plants in Our World, Fall 2017