|European White Elm in winter|
Ulmus laevis Pall., the European White Elm, Fluttering Elm, Spreading Elm and, in the USA, Russian Elm, is a large deciduous tree native to Europe, from France northeast to southern Finland, east as far as the Urals, and southeast to Bulgaria and the Crimea; there is also a disjunct population in the Caucasus. Moreover, a small number of trees found in Spain is now considered a relict population rather than an introduction by man, and possibly the origin of the European population.
Endemic to alluvial forest, U. laevis is rarely encountered at elevations above 400 m. Most commonly found along rivers such as the Volga and Danube, it is one of very few elms tolerant of prolonged waterlogged, anoxic ground conditions. The White Elm is allogamous and is most closely related to the American Elm U. americana.
The tree is similar in stature to the Wych Elm, if rather less symmetric, with a looser branch structure and less neatly rounded crown. It typically reaches a height and breadth of > 30 m, with a trunk < 2 m d.b.h. The extensive shallow root system ultimately forms distinctive high buttresses around the base of the trunk. The leaves are deciduous, alternate, simple ovate with a markedly lop-sided base, < 10 cm long and < 7 cm broad, comparatively thin, often almost papery in texture and very translucent, smooth above with a downy underside. The apetalous wind-pollinated flowers appear before the leaves in early spring, produced in clusters of 15-30; they are 3–4 mm across on 20 mm long stems. In England, trees grown from seed flower in March, commencing at ages of between 7 and 12 years. The fruit is a winged samara < 15 mm long by 10 mm broad with a ciliate margin, the single round 5 mm seed maturing in late spring. U. laevis sheds its leaves earlier in the autumn than other species of European elm.
The tree is most reliably distinguished from other European elms by the long flower stems, and is most closely related to the American Elm U. americana, from which it differs mainly in the irregular crown shape and frequent small sprout stems on the trunk and branches, features which also give the tree a winter silhouette; a useful diagnostic feature at this season.
Pests and diseases
Like other European elms, natural populations of the European White Elm have little innate resistance to Dutch elm disease, although research by Irstea has isolated clones able to survive inoculation with the causal fungus, initially losing < 70% of their foliage, but regenerating strongly the following year. Moreover, the tree is not favoured by the vector bark beetles, which colonize it only when there are no other elm alternatives available, an uncommon situation in western Europe. Research in Spain has indicated that it is the presence of a triterpene, alnulin, that renders the tree bark unattractive to the beetles. Ergo: the tree's decline in western Europe is chiefly owing to woodland clearance in river valleys, not disease.
Although ideally suited to wet ground conditions, the tree can still grow, albeit more slowly, on drier sites including chalk downland. However, one overriding factor in choosing a site is Exposure. White Elm is comparatively weak-wooded, much more so than Field Elm Ulmus minor, and thus an inappropriate choice for windy locations. In trials in southern England by Butterfly Conservation, young trees of < 5 m height were badly damaged by gusts of 40 knots (75 km/h) in midsummer.
Ulmus laevis is occasionally planted as an ornamental tree. In the UK examples are few and far between but sometimes of great age. Mature specimens survive today amid diseased native elm near Torpoint in Cornwall, while perhaps the finest specimen in Scotland stands  on East Fettes Avenue opposite Inverleith Allotments, Edinburgh. Others can be found in Edinburgh (The Meadows, Leith Links, and Powderhall Road), London (Riverside Walk, near Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and at Peckham and Tooting), Chelmsford (beside the Chelmer at the Rivermead Campus) , Brighton & Hove, and near St. Albans.
The species was never widely introduced to the USA, but is represented at several arboreta. In the Far East, the tree has been planted in Xinjiang province and elsewhere in Northern China; planting in Tongliao City is known to have been particularly successful. White Elm is also known to have been introduced to Australia.
In recent years, the tree has enjoyed a small renaissance in England. A popular larval host plant of the White-letter Hairstreak Satyrium w-album butterfly across Europe, the elm is now being planted by Butterfly Conservation and other groups to restore local populations decimated by the effects of Dutch elm disease on native or archaeophytic elms. The Cheshire Wildlife Trust, for example, is planting 1,000 White Elms on its reserves in the former Vale Royal district of the county.
The timber of the White Elm is of poor quality, the cross-grain causing problems when machined, and thus of little practical use to man, not even as firewood. The density of the timber is significantly lower than that of other European elms. However, owing to its rapid growth, tolerance of soil compaction, air pollution and de-icing salts, the tree has long been used for amenity planting in towns and along roadsides.
Usually easy to grow from seed sown to a depth of 6 mm in ordinary compost and kept well-watered. However, as seed viability can vary greatly from year to year, softwood cuttings taken in June may be a more reliable method. The cuttings strike very quickly, well within a fortnight, rapidly producing a dense matrix of roots.
The three largest known trees in Europe are at Gülitz in Germany (3.1 m d.b.h.), at Komorów in Poland (2.96 m d.b.h.), and at Bergemolo in Piedmont, Italy (bole-girth 6.2 m, height 26 m., 2008). Other veterans survive at Casteau, Belgium (bole-girth 5.15 m), in Rahnsdorf near Berlin (bole-girth 4.5 m) and in Ritvala, Finland (bole-girth 4.49 m).
Subspecies and varieties
Several putative varieties have been identified. A variety celtidea from what is now the Ukraine was reported by Rogowicz in the middle of the 19th century, but no examples are known to survive. Another variety parvifolia has been reported from Serbia.
In Russia several ornamental forms are recognized: f. aureovariegata, f. argentovariegata, f. rubra, and f. tiliifolia.
Compared with the other European species of elm, U. laevis has received scant horticultural attention, there being only five recorded cultivars, none of which are known to remain in cultivation, with the possible exception of 'Colorans' and 'Pendula': Aureovariegata, Colorans, Ornata, Pendula, Punctata, Urticifolia.
U. laevis does not hybridize naturally, in common with the American Elm U. americana to which it is closely related. However, in experiments at the Arnold Arboretum, it was successfully crossed with U. thomasii and U. pumila; no such crosses have ever been released to commerce.
- North America
- Arnold Arboretum. Acc. nos. 17910, 637-79, 6951, 753-80.
- Brenton Arboretum, Dallas Center, Iowa. No details available.
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York. Acc. no. X02589.
- Dominion Arboretum, Canada. No details available
- Longwood Gardens. Acc. nos. 1964-0568, 1964-1119.
- Morton Arboretum, Illinois. Acc. nos. 1302-27, 446-48, 492-64, 27-98.
- Arboretum de La Petite Loiterie, Monthodon, France. No details available
- Arboretum Freiburg-Günterstal, Germany, no details available
- Brighton & Hove City Council, UK, NCCPG Elm Collection. Ten trees at Hove Recreation Ground, Hove.
- Copenhagen University, Botanic Garden. No details available.
- ELTE Botanic Garden Budapest. Acc. nos. 1998-0718, 1998-0719.
- Grange Farm Arboretum, Sutton St. James, Spalding, Lincolnshire, UK. Acc. no. 502.
- Great Fontley Butterfly Conservation Elm Trials plantation, UK. Home Field K2 and Platts N10, planted 2003, grown from cuttings of specimen at RBG Wakehurst Place. Acc. no. 1973-21048.
- Hortus Botanicus Nationalis, Salaspils, Latvia. Acc. nos. 18136, 18140.
- Linnaean Gardens of Uppsala, Sweden. Acc. no. 1930-1014.
- Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, UK. Acc. no. 20070643, from seed wild collected in Val d'Allier, France.
- Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK. Acc. nos. 1969-17302, 1973-11712.
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Wakehurst Place, UK. Acc. no. 1973-21048.
- Royal Horticultural Society Gardens, Wisley, UK. No details available.
- Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, UK. Acc. no. 1981-2446.
- Strona Arboretum Ulmus lamellosa, University of Life Sciences, Warsaw, Poland.
- Tallinn Botanic Garden, Estonia. No accession details available.
- Thenford House arboretum, Oxfordshire, UK. No details available.
- 'The Leys', University Parks, Oxford, UK. Acc. no. 02678.
- Westonbirt Arboretum, Tetbury, Glos., UK, planted 1997. Acc. no. 1995/322
- North America
- Arboretum Waasland, Nieuwkerken-Waas, Belgium.
- Boomkwekerij Oirschot, Oirschot, Netherlands
- Crown Nursery, Ufford, Suffolk, UK
- Dulford Nurseries, Cullompton, Devon, UK
- Landcare Tree Nursery, Old Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, UK
- Lorenz von Ehren, Hamburg, Germany
- UmbraFlor, Spello, Italy
- Photographs of U. laevis (L'Orme lisse) in France: in the Forêt du Romersberg, Moselle,  (bottom of page), and near Walbourg, Bas-Rhin, (top of page); Archive Krapo arboricole
- Fuentes-Utrilla, P., Squirrell, J., Hollingsworth, P. M. & Gil, L. (2006). Ulmus laevis (Pallas) in the Iberian Peninsula. An introduced or relict tree species? New data from cpDNA analysis. Genetics Society, Ecological Genetics Group conference, University of Wales Aberystwyth 2006.
- Girard, S. (2007). Dossier: L'orme: nouveaux espoirs? Forêt entreprise No. 175, Juillet 2007, Institut pour le developpement forestier, Paris.
- Brookes, A. H. (2012). Disease-resistant elm cultivars, Butterfly Conservation trials report, 2nd revision, 2012. Butterfly Conservation, Hants & IoW Branch, England. 
- Bean, W. J. (1981). Trees and shrubs hardy in Great Britain, 7th edition. Murray, London.
- Elwes, H. J. & Henry, A. (1913). The Trees of Great Britain & Ireland. Vol. VII. pp 1848-1929. Private publication. 
- White, J. & More D. (2003). The Trees of Britain & Northern Europe, Cassell's, London.
- Hans, A. S. (1981). Compatibility and Crossability Studies in Ulmus. Silvae Genetica 30, 4 - 5 (1981).
- Collin, E., Bilger, I., Eriksson, G., & Turok, J. (2000). The conservation of elm genetic resources in Europe. In Dunn, C. P. (Ed.) (2000). The elms: breeding, conservation & disease management. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston.
- Martín-Benito D., Concepción García-Vallejo M., Alberto Pajares J., López D. 2005. Triterpenes in elms in Spain. Can. J. For. Res. 35: 199–205 (2005). 
- Mittempergher, L. & Santini, A. (2004). The History of Elm Breeding. Invest. Agrar.: Sist Recur For. 2004 13 (1), 161-177.
- Spencer, R., Hawker, J. and Lumley, P. (1991). Elms in Australia, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, Australia. ISBN 0-7241-9962-4
- Collin, E. (2003). EUFORGEN Technical Guidelines for genetic conservation and use for European white elm (Ulmus laevis). IPGRI, Rome, Italy. ISBN 92-9043-603-4
- http://www.bemerkenswerte-baeume.de,  www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de,
- Jovanović, B. & Radulović, S. (1980). Ulmus laevis var. parvifolia. Glasn. Prir. Muz. u Beogradu. (Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, Belgrade). 35 : 32, 38 (1980). Belgrade, Serbia.
- Ulmus laevis at Morton Arboretum
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ulmus laevis.|