Ulmus laevis

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Ulmus laevis
Llandegfan Elm tree.jpg
European White Elm in winter
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Ulmaceae
Genus: Ulmus
Species: U. laevis
Binomial name
Ulmus laevis
  • Ulmus acuta Dumrt.
  • Ulmus ciliata Ehrh.
  • Ulmus effusa Willd., Loudon, Willkomm, Fliche
  • Ulmus laevis var. celtidea Rogowicz
  • Ulmus laevis var. simplicidens (E. Wolf) Grudz.
  • Ulmus octandra Schkuhr
  • Ulmus pedunculata Foug.
  • Ulmus petropolitana Gand.
  • Ulmus racemosa (not Thomas), Borkh.
  • Ulmus reticulata Dumrt.
  • Ulmus simplicidens E. Wolf

Ulmus laevis Pall., called the European White Elm, Fluttering Elm, Spreading Elm, Stately Elm and Russian Elm, is a large deciduous tree native to Europe, from France[1] 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.[2]

Endemic to alluvial forest, U. laevis is rarely encountered at elevations above 400 m.[3] 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. Although not possessed of an innate genetic resistance to Dutch elm disease, the species is rarely infected in western Europe. 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.[4] 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.[5] [6] U. laevis suckers from roots, but not stools. Although the species is protandrous, levels of self-pollination are high[7]

Pests and diseases[edit]

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.[8] Moreover, the tree is not favoured by the vector bark beetles, which colonize it only when there are no other elm alternatives available,[9] an uncommon situation in western Europe. Indeed, in a study of elm in Flanders, not one example of U. laevis was found to be afflicted by Dutch elm disease. [10] Research in Spain[11] 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.

The species has a slight to moderate susceptibility to Elm Yellows, but a very low susceptibility to the elm leaf beetle Xanthogaleruca luteola.[12]


U. laevis is essentially a riparian tree, able to withstand over 100 days of continual flooding. [13] Studies in Spain indicated that the tree is a calcifuge, preferring slightly acid, siliceous soils, and is also drought-intolerant, its xylem vessels prone to drought-stress cavitation. [14] However, one overriding factor in choosing a site is Exposure; the tree 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.[4]

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.[15]

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.[4]

Notable trees[edit]

U. laevis, Casteau, Belgium.
U. laevis near the Red House, Česká Lípa, Czech Republic

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).[16] Other veterans survive at Casteau, Belgium (bole-girth 5.15 m), in Rahnsdorf near Berlin (bole-girth 4.5 m)[17] and in Ritvala, Finland (bole-girth 4.49 m).[18]

Ulmus laevis is occasionally planted as an ornamental tree in the UK. The UK Champion is at Ferry Farm, Harewood, Cornwall (27 m high, 1.8 m d.b.h.). Other examples are few and far between but sometimes of great age, surviving today amid diseased native elm near Torpoint,[19] while perhaps the finest specimen in Scotland stands [2013] 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) [2009], Brighton & Hove, and near St. Albans.

In the USA, a reputedly magnificent tree grows in Portland, Oregon, but its dimensions and age are not known.


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.[20]


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.

Subspecies and varieties[edit]

Columnar form, Entraygues, France

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.[21]


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: Aureovariegata, Colorans, Ornata, Pendula, Punctata, Urticifolia.

A pyramidal form was reported in 1888 from the Fredericksfelde cemetery in Berlin by Bolle [22] Similar, monopodial trees can be found today (2014) at Entraygues, France.


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[edit]



  1. ^ Photographs of U. laevis (L'Orme lisse) in France: in the Forêt du Romersberg, Moselle, [3] (bottom of page), and near Walbourg, Bas-Rhin,[4] (top of page); Archive Krapo arboricole
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Girard, S. (2007). Dossier: L'orme: nouveaux espoirs? Forêt entreprise No. 175, Juillet 2007, Institut pour le developpement forestier, Paris.
  4. ^ a b c Brookes, A. H. (2012). Disease-resistant elm cultivars, Butterfly Conservation trials report, 2nd revision, 2012. Butterfly Conservation, Hants & IoW Branch, England. [5]
  5. ^ Bean, W. J. (1981). Trees and shrubs hardy in Great Britain, 7th edition. Murray, London.
  6. ^ Elwes, H. J. & Henry, A. (1913). The Trees of Great Britain & Ireland. Vol. VII. 1848–1929. Republished 2004 Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9781108069380
  7. ^ Hans, A. S. (1981). Compatibility and Crossability Studies in Ulmus. Silvae Genetica 30, 4 - 5 (1981).
  8. ^ Solla et al. (2005). Screening European Elms for Resistance to Ophiostoma novo-ulmi. Forest Science, 134–141. 51 (2) 2005. Society of American Foresters.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Vander Mijnsbrugge, K., Vanden Broeck, A., & Van Slycken, J. (2005). A study of Ulmus laevis in Flanders (Northern Belgium). Belgian Journal of Botany, Vol. 138, No. 2 (2005), pp. 199-204. Royal Botanical Society of Belgium.
  11. ^ 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). [6]
  12. ^ Mittempergher, L. & Santini, A. (2004). The History of Elm Breeding. Invest. Agrar.: Sist Recur For. 2004 13 (1), 161-177.
  13. ^ Spohn, M. (2008). Trees of Britain & Europe (Black's Nature Guides), 256 p. A & C Black, ISBN–13:978–1408101520
  14. ^ Venturas, M. et al. (2013). Ulmus laevis Pall. a native elm in the Iberian peninsula: a multidisciplinary approach. Abstracts. 3rd International Elm Conference 2013. The elm after 100 years of Dutch elm disease. Florence 2013. p.48.
  15. ^ Spencer, R., Hawker, J. and Lumley, P. (1991). Elms in Australia, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, Australia. ISBN 0-7241-9962-4
  16. ^ http://www.patriarchinatura.it
  17. ^ http://www.bemerkenswerte-baeume.de, [7] www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de,[8]
  18. ^ http://www.monumentaltrees.com
  19. ^ http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=13849
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Bolle, C. (1888). Ulmus effusa, in Garden & Forest, 32, 381–382, 1888. Garden & Forest Publishing Co. Ltd., USA.
  23. ^ http://lapetiteloiterie.free.fr/html/presentation/especes.html
  24. ^ http://www.biologie.uni-ulm.de/extern/guenterstal/ukarbtxt.htm
  25. ^ http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-62qk8w
  26. ^ http://www.bbg.org/cgi/bgbase/search.cgi
  27. ^ Ulmus laevis at Morton Arboretum
  28. ^ http://www.arboretum-waasland.be/English.htm
  29. ^ http://www.plantago.nl/plantindex/index.htm
  30. ^ http://www.crown-nursery.co.uk
  31. ^ http://www.dulford-nurseries.co.uk
  32. ^ http://www.landcare.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk
  33. ^ http://lve.ulmer.de/TUlEPTUwOTY4.html?UID=BEA9FD32B9D84066636F075F113998FB30EF481B64C697
  34. ^ http://www.umbraflor.it

External links[edit]