Ulmus rubra

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Ulmus rubra
Mature Ulmus rubra in graveyard.jpg
Mature cultivated Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Ulmaceae
Genus: Ulmus
Species: U. rubra
Binomial name
Ulmus rubra
Ulmus rubra range map 3.png
Natural range of Ulmus rubra
  • Ulmus americana L. var. rubra Aiton
  • Ulmus crispa Willd.
  • Ulmus dimidiata Raf.
  • Ulmus fulva Michx., Loudon, Bentley & Trimen, Sarg.
  • Ulmus pinguis Raf.
  • Ulmus pubescens Walter?, Sudworth, Pinchot

Ulmus rubra, the Slippery Elm, is a species of elm native to eastern North America (from southeast North Dakota, east to Maine and southern Quebec, south to northernmost Florida, and west to eastern Texas). Other common names include Red Elm, Gray Elm, Soft Elm, Moose Elm, and Indian Elm.


Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg, who named Ulmus rubra in 1793. Portrait by Peale, 1810.

This widespread, common North American forest tree species was named several times, with Pennsylvania botanist Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg's 1793 name Ulmus rubra now accepted as the first formally published. The slightly later name U. fulva, published by French botanist André Michaux in 1803, is used in much of the older literature, and is still widely used in dietary-supplement and alternative-medicine information.

Ulmus rubra has almost universally been treated taxonomically as a distinct species without named subspecies or varieties. However, it was sometimes considered a variety of the American Elm, Ulmus americana var. rubra, in the late 18th century. The species is similar to American Elm (U. americana) in general appearance, but more closely related to the European Wych Elm (U. glabra), which has a very similar flower structure.

The yoke of the Liberty Bell, a symbol of the independence of the United States, was made from Slippery Elm.


Ulmus rubra is a deciduous tree which can grow to 65 feet (20 m) in height with a 20-inch (50 cm) d.b.h. trunk. The tree's more upright branching pattern differs from the deliquescent branching of the American elm. Its heartwood is reddish-brown, giving the tree its alternative common name 'Red Elm'. The leaves are 4-6 in (10–18 cm) long and have a rough texture (especially above), coarsely double-serrate margins, acuminate apices and oblique bases. The perfect, apetalous, wind-pollinated flowers are produced before the leaves in early spring, usually in clusters of 10–20. The fruit is an oval winged samara about 3/4 in (20 mm) long that contains a single, central seed. Ulmus rubra may be distinguished from American elm by the hairiness of its buds and twigs (both smooth on the American elm) and by its very short-stalked flowers.

Pests and diseases[edit]

The tree is reputedly less susceptible to Dutch elm disease than other species of American elms,[2] but is severely damaged by the Elm Leaf Beetle (Xanthogaleruca luteola).[3][unreliable source?]


Ulmus rubra thrives in moisture-rich uplands, but it will also grow in dry, intermediate soils.[4]


In the central United States, native Ulmus rubra hybridizes in the wild with the Siberian elm (U. pumila),[5] which was introduced in the early 20th century and which has spread widely since then, prompting conservation concerns for the former species.[6]


The species has been introduced to Europe and Australasia.

Notable trees[edit]

The USA National Champion, measuring 38 m high in 2011, grows in Daviess County, Indiana.[7][1]

Hybrid cultivars[edit]

U. rubra had limited success as a hybrid parent in the 1960s, resulting in the cultivars 'Coolshade', 'Lincoln', 'Rosehill', and probably 'Willis'.[8] In later years, it was also used in the Wisconsin program to produce 'Repura' and 'Revera' [9] although neither is known to have been released to commerce.


The epithet rubra (red) alludes to the tree's reddish wood, whilst the common name "slippery elm" alludes to the mucilaginous inner bark.


North America



Ulmus rubra has various traditional medicinal uses. The mucilagenous inner bark of the tree has long been used as a demulcent, and is still produced commercially for this purpose in the United States with approval for sale as an over-the-counter demulcent by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[10] Sometimes leaves are dried and ground into a powder, then made into a tea. Both Ulmus rubra gruel and tea may help to soothe the digestive tract.[11] It is however not recommended for women during pregnancy.[12] Slippery elm may decrease the absorption of prescription medications.[11]

Other uses[edit]

The wood of the Ulmus rubra is used for the hubs of wagon wheels, as it is very shock resistant owing to the interlocking grain.[13] The wood is sometimes used to make bows for archery. For this use the wood may be referred to as red elm.

The tree's fibrous inner bark produces a strong and durable fiber that can be spun into thread, twine, or rope[13] useful for bow strings, ropes, jewellery, clothing, snowshoe bindings, woven mats, and even some musical instruments.[citation needed]

Once cured, the wood is also excellent for starting fires with the bow-drill method, as it grinds into a very fine flammable powder under friction.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Ulmus rubra information from NPGS/GRIN". www.ars-grin.gov. Retrieved 2008-03-14. 
  2. ^ "Ulmus rubra". Illinois State Museum. 
  3. ^ http://www.sunshinenursery.com/survey.htm
  4. ^ "Ulmus rubra Muhl". Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry. 
  5. ^ Zalapa, J. E.; Brunet, J.; Guries, R. P. (2008). "Isolation and characterization of microsatellite markers for red elm (Ulmus rubra Muhl.) and cross-species amplification with Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila L.)". Molecular Ecology Resources 8 (1): 109–12. doi:10.1111/j.1471-8286.2007.01805.x. PMID 21585729. 
  6. ^ 'Conservation status of Red Elm (U. rubra) in the north-central United States', elm2013.ipp.cnr.it/downloads/book_of_abstracts.pdfCached p.33-35
  7. ^ American Forests. (2012). The 2012 National Register of Big Trees.
  8. ^ Green, P S (24 July 1964). "Registration of cultivar names in Ulmus" (PDF). Arnoldia 24 (6–8): 41–46. 
  9. ^ Santamour, Frank S; Susan E Bentz (May 1995). "Updated checklist of elm (Ulmus) cultivars for use in North America". Journal of Arboriculture 21 (3): 122–131. 
  10. ^ Braun, Lesley; Cohen, Marc (2006). Herbs and Natural Supplements: An Evidence-Based Guide (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone. p. 586. ISBN 978-0-7295-3796-4.  , quote:"Although Slippery Elm has not been scientifically investigated, the FDA has approved it as a safe demulcent substance."
  11. ^ a b "Bile reflux: Alternative medicine - MayoClinic.com". www.mayoclinic.com. Retrieved 2010-02-03. 
  12. ^ Pagano, John OA. Healing Psoriasis-The natural alternative. Wiley. 
  13. ^ a b Werthner, William B. (1935). Some American Trees: An intimate study of native Ohio trees. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. xviii + 398. 

External links[edit]