Elms are loved for their graceful, stately shape, with branches like spreading fountains, and green leaves that turn gold in fall. The American elm was the most popular tree to plant in the booming cities of the 19th century, so that by the 20th century many streets were lined with only elms and were shaded in summer by a cathedral-like ceiling of their branches. Sadly, for many years, the American elm (Ulmus americana) could not be recommended because it is vulnerable to a devastating pathogen called Dutch elm disease. When Dutch elm disease (which actually originated in Asia) spread to the US in the 1950s, it was able to mow down elm after elm through their grafted root systems or with the help of a beetle. However, due in part to research at The Morton Arboretum, other species and hybrids that are more resistant to the disease are now available for planting.
The biggest lesson learned from the devastation of Dutch elm disease is the importance of having a variety of trees along streets, in parks, and in home landscapes so that no disease or pest that may arrive can kill a large proportion of the trees. Today, arborists and foresters are careful to plant a diverse range of trees that will not all be vulnerable to any particular pest, disease or weather conditions. You will find a number of disease-resistant elms in Search Trees and Plants. For other alternative trees, consult the Plant Clinic.
This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.
- Family (English) Elm
- Family (botanic) Ulmaceae
- Tree or plant type Tree
- Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
- Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
- Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
- Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
- Tolerances Alkaline soil, Clay soil, Dry sites, Road salt
- Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early fall, mid fall
- Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous, Other
- Shape or form Vase-shaped
- Growth rate Fast, Moderate