Cedar Elm TreeUlmus crassifolia
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The Cedar Elm is a tall, vase-shaped shade tree, that will grow to between 50 and 70 feet tall, with a spread of over 40 feet. It has an upright trunk, and the crown spread outwards, with slightly drooping branches. The leaves are the smallest of any elm, no more than 2 inches long. They are oval, with a serrated edge, and dry and rough to the touch. Small flowers develop in late summer or early fall, and the seeds ripen in October. The leaves turn clear, golden yellow in the fall, and the small leaves and seeds make very little litter. This is an excellent lawn specimen, and a great native tree for natural planting.
Hardy in zones 6 to 9, the Cedar Elm is very tough and reliable, growing in all soils, from wet to dry, including clay, alkaline soil, and compacted urban soils. It should be planted in full sun, and once established this tree is very drought tolerant. It grows well in wet soils too, where most other types of trees fail to grow for long. Although not fully resistant to it, this tree is usually free of Dutch elm disease, unlike the very susceptible American elm.
It is almost always the right choice to choose to grow a native tree over an introduced, non-native species, especially for tough sites. A striking reverse example of this is the Cedar Elm, a tree that is native to Texas, but that is rare in Europe because it doesn’t grow well there. Something about their climate just doesn’t suit it, but here, in North America, this is a great tree for difficult locations, and a fabulous pick where you have either wet soils, or periods of drought. Well-adapted to extremes of weather, this tree is tough, reliable and stalwart, like Texans themselves.
The Cedar Elm is a tall deciduous shade tree, reaching over 50 feet in height, with an upright trunk and a vase-shaped crown. The bark is gray-brown, and on a mature tree the bark is rough and slightly peeling, with closely spaced deep, irregular grooves in it. On younger stems the bark is smoother. The leaves are the smallest of any elm tree, no more than 2 inches long, giving this tree a fine visual texture. The leaves are oval, with a prominent central vein and side veins coming off at a broad angle. The edges of the leaves are roundly serrated, and they are thick, with a slightly rough, sandpapery feel. The leaves turn golden yellow in fall, making a very attractive show. Once they are gone this tree changes from casting deep, cooling summer shade to letting the warm sun of winter through. It’s a great choice for planting near the south-facing side of a house, for cooling, but don’t plant closer than 20 feet from a building.
While most trees flower in spring, the tiny flowers of the Cedar Elm don’t appear until late July, and they may come as late as early September. The seeds develop quickly, so by late September or in October you will see clusters of seeds along the branches. These look like tiny green ravioli, with a central bump that is the seed. They turn golden brown when they are ripe, and they blow away in the wind. Because both the seeds and the leaves are small, this tree doesn’t make a lot of litter or mess that needs cleaning up.
Because it is so tough, the Cedar Elm is a great choice for planting in urban areas and on poor soil. It makes an excellent shade tree on a lawn, or planted in a paved area, and it could be grown among a collection of other trees in an open, semi-wild area too. It will grow in very alkaline soils and in salt-contaminated soil as well. It grows in clay, including compacted clay from construction activity, and once established it is very drought resistant. Yet it also grows well in wet soil, so this reliable tree can be grown almost anywhere. It is hardy in zones 6 to 9, an for all warmer parts of the country, especially areas with hot, dry summers, this tree is a great choice.
When many people hear the word ‘elm’ they can think ‘Dutch elm disease’, but while it is possible for the Cedar Elm to catch this disease, it is rare for it to do so, and most trees remain disease-free, unlike the notoriously-susceptible American elm (Ulmus americana). Other pests like elm leaf beetles can occur, but they are normally not a problem, and this tree is generally free of serious pests and diseases. It needs no special care, but when young it is helpful to do some formative pruning, to develop a good crown, removing one of two branches when they are both the same size where they meet. These ‘narrow crotches’ can lead to breakage in the future. It is better to have a limited number of main branches, with more slender side branches growing from them.
The Cedar Elm, Ulmus crassifolia, is native to southern and eastern parts of Texas, where it can be abundant, as well as being found in southern Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and northern Florida. In some Texan cities it is planted as a tough street tree, but outside those areas it is rarely seen. This is a loss, since such a reliable and versatile tree deserves to be more widely grown. Its unusual name comes from it often growing in the wild alongside ‘cedar’ trees – which are actually a type of Juniper. Despite this confusion, the name is useful and distinctive, although it is sometimes also called the Texas Elm, which is very appropriate to its natural location. Whatever we call it, this tree is only rarely available, and it will sell out fast, so order now and enjoy a tree that is both tough and beautiful, and part of our native tree heritage.