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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 the Arboretum’s Trees and Plants database. 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

More Information

Native Geographic Location and Habitat

C-value: 3. American elm is native to the eastern half of the United States. 

Leaf Arrangement, Size, Shape, and Texture  

Alternate, oval, pointed leaves have doubly toothed margins. The leaf is shorter on one side of the center vein than on the other. Leaf color is dark green in summer, changing to yellow in fall.

Flower Arrangement, Shape, and Size

The tree has inconspicuous flowers in early spring.

Fruit, Nut, and Seed Descriptions

The seed is encased in a small oval samara (seed case with wings) and dispersed by the wind.

Care Knowledge

Plant Care

Generally, elms prefer sun. They adapt easily to extremes in soil pH and moisture, and are heat and wind tolerant.

List of Pests and Diseases

American elm is susceptible to Dutch elm disease, elm yellows, elm phloem necrosis, elm bark beetle, elm leaf beetles, elm leaf miner and verticillium wilt.


These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Jefferson (Ulmus americana ‘Jefferson’)

This cultivar has excellent resistance to Dutch elm disease. It has a vase-shaped habit and is considered sterile.

New Harmony (Ulmus americana ‘New Harmony’): 

Another cultivar with excellent resistance to Dutch elm disease and a vase-shaped habit.

Prairie Expedition® (Ulmus americana ‘Lewis & Clark’): 

With excellent resistance to Dutch elm disease, this cultivar has a vase-shaped habit.

Princeton (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’):  

This tree has good resistance to Dutch elm disease and fair resistance to elm leaf beetle, along with the traditional American elm vase-shaped habit.

Valley Forge (Ulmus americana ‘Valley Forge’):

Similar to the others, this tree has excellent resistance to Dutch elm disease and a vase-shaped habit.


For other elm hybrids and cultivars that are Dutch elm disease resistant go to Elm Cultivars.


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