Ulmus minor 'Stricta'

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Ulmus minor
Cornish Elms at Coldrenick.jpg
U. minor 'Stricta', Coldrenick, Cornwall, before 1913
Cultivar 'Stricta'
Origin England

The Field Elm cultivar Ulmus minor 'Stricta' known as the Cornish Elm, was commonly found in South West England, Southern Ireland and Brittany until the arrival of Dutch elm disease in the late 1960s. Dr Max Coleman of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, arguing in his 2002 paper on British elms that there was no clear distinction between species and subspecies, suggested that known or suspected clones of Ulmus minor, once cultivated and named, should be treated as cultivars, preferred the designation U. minor 'Stricta'. The DNA of 'Stricta' has been investigated and the cultivar is now known to be a clone.[1]

Mature trees are now largely restricted to Australia, whither it was introduced in the 19th century.


Growing to a height of up to 27 metres (89 ft), the Cornish Elm is a slender, slow-growing deciduous tree, distinguished by its long, straight trunk, which culminates in a narrow fan-shaped crown comprising short, straight, ascending branches.[2] The leaves are small, obovate to oval, typically acuminate at the apex, 6 cm long by 3.5 cm broad, with a dark-green upper surface, glossy and smooth. The perfect apetalous wind-pollinated flowers occur in clusters of 15–20 on very short pedicels. The samarae rarely ripened in England, but when mature were very similar to those of others in the Field Elm group, being mostly obovate, 16 mm long by 10 mm broad.

Dr Oliver Rackham (1986) noted that Cornish Elms with "more spreading" crowns grow around Truro and on the Lizard Peninsula, illustrating the variety, which he called 'Lizard Elm', with a 1980 photograph.[3]

Pests and diseases[edit]

Cornish Elm is very susceptible to Dutch elm disease, but suckers remain a common component of hedgerows in parts of Cornwall, and thus the genetic resources of this cultivar are not considered endangered.[4] Like other Field Elms, propagation is almost entirely by suckers, which the tree produces copiously.[5][6]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Pilot gigs made from Cornish Elm returning from a race at Mevagissey, 2001

The origin of the Cornish Elm in England remains a matter of contention; commonly assumed to have been introduced from Brittany by Man, it is also considered possible that the species may have survived the Ice Ages on lands to the south of Cornwall long since lost to the sea.[7] Without doubt, its current distribution owes much to man's activities, as it is the tree traditionally considered the best choice for providing shelter along the Cornish coast. Moreover, its timber was much prized for its strength, and commonly used in wheel and wagon construction.[8] Working Cornish pilot gigs were traditionally built from Cornish Elm, and until recently the Rules of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association specified that to take part in gig races the boat should be made from "Cornish narrow-leaved elm".[9][10]

Few mature specimens are known to survive in the wild in England. As of 2009, two are reputed to survive in East Sussex at Selmeston, near the footpath across the grounds of Sherrington Manor.[11] Another specimen (height about 25 m, girth about 2 m) survives (2016) in Edinburgh, near the intersection of Douglas Crescent and Douglas Gardens.[12][13] There are two specimens (1.5 m girth) in the University of Dundee Botanic Garden (2016).[14]

Notable trees[edit]

The Great Elm of Rosuic, an ancient pollard elm which attained a d.b.h. of over 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) before succumbing to disease, continues to produce suckers.[15][16]

As of 2011, the Woodland Trust lists only one verified mature Cornish Elm surviving in Cornwall, a specimen 1.89 metres (6.2 ft) in girth at Tregoose near Helston.[17] A small number of mature trees, with an average d.b.h. of 143 cm, survive at Castletownbere Cemetery in County Cork, Ireland.[18] Another specimen, believed to be over a century old, exists in Shoreham, Victoria in Australia.[citation needed]


The noted botanist Ronald Melville considered Goodyer's Elm a variety of the Cornish Elm.


It has been suggested that the cultivar 'Daveyi' is a natural hybrid of Wych elm and Cornish elm; [19][20] likewise 'Exoniensis'.


There are no known cultivars of this taxon, although the botanist F. J. Fontaine conjectured that the cultivar Ulmus 'Purpurea' is related to the Cornish Elm.[21] The tree is not known to be in commerce beyond Australia.


North America



The Cornish Elm in art[edit]

Landscape-paintings depicting Cornish Elm include Holman Hunt's watercolour Helston, Cornwall (1860), showing hedgerow elms,[26][27] and the watercolour Egloshayle, Cornwall by Thomas Campbell-Bennett (1858-1948), showing Cornish Elms beside the River Camel, opposite the church of St Mary, Egloshayle.[28] The latter illustrates Gerald Wilkinson's observation that "In its normal habitat the Cornish Elm often has a flat, wind-cut top".[29]


  1. ^ Coleman M. (2002) 'British elms.' British Wildlife 13 (6): 390–395.
  2. ^ Diagnostic photographs of Cornish elm in St Austell (Francis Frith Collection); at Coldrenick, Menheniot (Elwes and Henry, The Trees of Britain and Ireland vol.VII, Plate 397 [after p.1933]) ; in Zelah (oldcornwall.netfirms.com).
  3. ^ Rackham, Oliver, The History of the Countryside (London, 1986),  p.236
  4. ^ Ipgri.cgiar.org
  5. ^ Richens, R. H. (1983). Elm. Cambridge University Press
  6. ^ Stace, C. A. (1997). New Flora of the British Isles, 2nd edition. Cambridge University Press
  7. ^ White, J. & More, D. (2002). Trees of Britain & Northern Europe. Cassell's, London.
  8. ^ Elwes, H. J. & Henry, A. (1913). The Trees of Great Britain & Ireland. Vol. VII. 1848–1929. Republished 2004 Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9781108069380
  9. ^ Cornish Pilot Gig Association, cpga.co.uk/
  10. ^ Edwards, Ian, 'Uses of Elm Past and Present', in Coleman, Max, ed. Wych Elm (Edinburgh (2009), p.45
  11. ^ South Downs Online
  12. ^ Edinburgh 'Stricta' may be seen on Google Streetview, from 1 Douglas Gardens.
  13. ^ Edinburgh 'Stricta' above Dean Village, [1]
  14. ^ Cornish Elms (one incorrectly labelled U. glabra) by south perimeter fence, University of Dundee Botanic Garden. One visible on Google Streetview from Riverside Drive.
  15. ^ "Ancient Trees in Cornwall (third paragraph)". Cornwall Council. February 17, 2010. Retrieved May 5, 2011. Based on a chapter written by Sue Pring in 'Glorious Gardens of Cornwall' published by the Cornwall Gardens Trust. 
  16. ^ Rackham, Oliver, A History of the Countryside (London, 1986)
  17. ^ Details and photographs of Tregoose elm. Ancient-tree-hunt.org.
  18. ^ Mackenthun, G. L. (2007) The elms of Co. Cork - a survey of species, varieties and forms. Irish Forestry Vol 64, (1 & 2) 2007
  19. ^ http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=13849
  20. ^ Archie Miles, Hidden Trees of Britain, Ebury Press, 2007,  p.17
  21. ^ F. J. Fontaine, Dendroflora No., (1968).
  22. ^ "List of plants in the {elm} collection". Brighton & Hove City Council. Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  23. ^ Cambridge Botanic Garden
  24. ^ Spencer, R., Hawker, J. and Lumley, P. (1991). Elms in Australia. Australia: Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. ISBN 0-7241-9962-4. 
  25. ^ EstablishedTrees.com.au
  26. ^ cornwallartists.org/cornwall-artists/william-holman-hunt
  27. ^ Richens, R. H., Elm (Cambridge 1983), ch.8
  28. ^ Egloshayle, Cornwall by Thomas Campbell-Bennett, antique-fine-art.com [2]. The same trees in a 1920 photograph, 'Wadebridge, 1920', francisfrith.com: [3] and in 1895, 'Wadebridge from Egloshayle, 1895', francisfrith.com: [4]
  29. ^ Wilkinson, Gerald, Epitaph for the Elm (London, 1978), p.70

External links[edit]