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Elms are deciduous and semi-deciduous trees comprising the genus Ulmus in the plant family Ulmaceae. The genus first appeared in the Miocene geological period about 20 million years ago, originating in what is now central Asia. These trees flourished and spread over most of the Northern Hemisphere, inhabiting the temperate and tropical-montane regions of North America and Eurasia, ranging southward across the Equator into Indonesia.
Elms are components of many kinds of natural forests; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, many species and cultivars were also planted as ornamental street, garden, and park trees in Europe, North America, and parts of the Southern Hemisphere, notably Australasia. Some individual elms reached great size and age. However, in recent decades, most mature elms of European or North American origin have died from Dutch elm disease, caused by a microfungus dispersed by bark beetles. In response, disease-resistant cultivars have been developed, capable of restoring the elm to forestry and landscaping.
Elm leaves are alternate, with simple, single- or, most commonly, doubly serrate margins, usually asymmetric at the base and acuminate at the apex. The genus is hermaphroditic, having apetalous perfect flowers which are mostly wind-pollinated, although bees do visit them. The fruit is a round wind-dispersed samara flushed with chlorophyll, facilitating photosynthesis before the leaves emerge.All species are tolerant of a wide range of soils and pH levels but, with few exceptions, demand good drainage.

Dutch elm disease (DED) devastated elms throughout Europe and much of North America in the second half of the 20th century. Owing to its geographical isolation and effective quarantine enforcement, Australia has so far remained unaffected by Dutch Elm Disease, as have the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia in western Canada. DED is caused by a micro-fungus transmitted by two species of Scolytus elm-bark beetle which act as vectors. The disease affects all species of elm native to North America and Europe, but many Asiatic species have evolved anti-fungal genes and are resistant. Fungal spores, introduced into wounds in the tree caused by the beetles, invade the xylem or vascular system. The tree responds by producing tyloses, effectively blocking the flow from roots to leaves. Woodland trees in North America are not quite as susceptible to the disease because they usually lack the root-grafting of the urban elms and are somewhat more isolated from each other. In France, inoculation with the fungus of over three hundred clones of the European species failed to find a single variety possessed of any significant resistance.
The first, less aggressive strain of the disease fungus, Ophiostoma ulmi, arrived in Europe from the Far East in 1910, and was accidentally introduced to North America in 1928, but was steadily weakened by viruses and had all but disappeared in Europe by the 1940s. The second, far more virulent strain of the disease Ophiostoma novo-ulmi was identified in Europe in the late 1960s, and within a decade had killed over 20 million trees (approximately 75%) in the UK alone. Approximately three times more deadly, the origin of the new strain is again most likely the Far East; the hypothesis that it arose from a hybrid between the original O. ulmi and another strain endemic to the Himalaya, Ophiostoma himal-ulmi now discredited.
There is no sign of the current pandemic waning, and no evidence of a susceptibility of the fungus to a disease of its own caused by d-factors: naturally occurring virus-like agents that severely debilitated the original O. ulmi and reduced its sporulation.

Elm wood was valued for its interlocking grain, and consequent resistance to splitting, with significant uses in wagon wheel hubs, chair seats and coffins. The elm's wood bends well and distorts easily making it quite pliant. The often long, straight, trunks were favoured as a source of timber for keels in ship construction. Elm is also prized by bowyers; of the ancient bows found in Europe, a large portion of them are elm. During the Middle Ages elm was also used to make longbows if yew was unavailable.