Ulmus thomasii

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Rock elm
Ulmus thomasii (meisse) 1.jpg
Rock elm, Meise.
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Ulmaceae
Genus: Ulmus
Subgenus: U. subg. Oreoptelea
Section: U. sect. Chaetoptelea
U. thomasii
Binomial name
Ulmus thomasii
Ulmus thomasii range map 3.png
Natural range of Ulmus thomasii
  • Ulmus racemosa Thomas

Ulmus thomasii, the rock elm[3] or cork elm, is a deciduous tree native primarily to the Midwestern United States. The tree ranges from southern Ontario and Quebec, south to Tennessee, west to northeastern Kansas, and north to Minnesota.[4]


The tree was named in 1902 for David Thomas, an American civil engineer who had first named and described the tree in 1831 as Ulmus racemosa.[5]


Ulmus thomasii grows as a tree from 15–30 m (50–100 ft) tall, and may live for up to 300 years. Where forest-grown, the crown is cylindrical and upright with short branches, and is narrower than most other elms.[6] Rock elm is also unusual among North American elms in that it is often monopodial.[7] The bark is grey-brown and deeply furrowed into scaly, flattened ridges. Many older branches have 3–4 irregular thick corky wings. It is for this reason the rock elm is sometimes called the cork elm.[8]

The leaves are 5–10 cm (2–4 in) long and 2–5 cm (34–2 in) wide, oval to obovate with a round, symmetrical base and acuminate apex. The leaf surface is shiny dark green, turning bright yellow in autumn; the underside is pubescent. The perfect apetalous, wind-pollinated flowers are red-green and appear in racemes up to 40 mm (2 in) long two weeks before the leaves from March to May, depending on the tree's location. The fruit is a broad ovate samara 13–25 mm (123132 in) long covered with fine hair, notched at the tip, and maturing during May or June to form drooping clusters at the leaf bases.[9]

Although U. thomasii is protandrous, levels of self-pollination remain high.[10]


Ulmus thomasii is moderately shade-tolerant.[11] Its preferred habitat is moist but well-drained sandy loam, loam, or silt loam soil, mixed with other hardwoods. However, it also grows on dry uplands, especially on rocky ridges and limestone bluffs.

Pests and diseases[edit]

Like most North American elms, U. thomasii is very susceptible to Dutch elm disease.


There are no known cultivars of Ulmus thomasii, nor is it known to be any longer in commerce. It appeared in some US nursery catalogues in the early 20th century.[12] The species is occasionally grown beyond its native range as a specimen tree in botanical gardens and arboreta, for example in northwestern Europe, but not commonly cultivated in northern Europe, being unsuited to the region's more temperate, maritime climate. However, the tree was propagated and marketed in the UK by the Hillier & Sons nursery, Winchester, Hampshire, from 1965 to 1977, during which time 49 were sold.[13][14]

Ulmus thomasii was crossed experimentally with Japanese elm (U. davidiana var. japonica) at the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts, but no clones were released to commerce.[10] Seedlings arising from crossings with Siberian elm (U. pumila) at the Lake States Forestry Experimental Station in the 1950s all perished,[15] a classic case of hybrid lethality.[16]

Notable trees[edit]

The US National Champion, measuring 100 ft (30 m) high in 1989, grows in Cass County, Michigan.[17]


The wood of the rock elm is the hardest and heaviest of all elms, and where forest-grown remains comparatively free of knots and other defects. It is also very strong and takes a high polish, and consequently was once in great demand in America and Europe for a wide range of uses, notably boatbuilding, furniture, agricultural tools, and musical instruments.

Much of the timber's strength is derived from the tight grain arising from the tree's very slow rate of growth, the trunk typically increasing in diameter by less than 2 mm (332 in) a year. Over 250 annual growth rings were once counted in a log 24 cm (9+12 in) square being sawn for gunwales in an English boatyard, while a tree once grown at Kew Gardens, London, attained a height of only 12 m (39 ft) in 50 years.[18]


North America


  1. ^ Stritch, L. (2018). "Ulmus thomasii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T61967392A61967401. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T61967392A61967401.en. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Ulmus thomasii". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden.
  3. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  4. ^ "Ulmus Thomasii Range Map" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
  5. ^ This name had been used in 1800 for a different species of elm, hence the need for the later renaming that honored Thomas.
  6. ^ Photographs of mature Rock Elm showing narrow profile: Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources [1], Natural Resources of Canada, tidcf.nrcan.gc.ca [2] Archived 2016-08-02 at the Wayback Machine [3]
  7. ^ Bean, W. J. (1981). Trees and shrubs hardy in Great Britain, 7th edition. Murray, London.
  8. ^ Photograph of corky ridges of Rock Elm branches, Michigan State University Plant Encyclopedia [4]
  9. ^ White, J & More, D. (2003). Trees of Britain & Northern Europe. Cassell's, London.
  10. ^ a b Hans, A. S. (1981). "Compatibility and Crossability Studies in Ulmus". Silvae Genetica. 30: 4–5.
  11. ^ "Forestry".
  12. ^ Kelsey, Frederick W., Choice Trees, cat. 55, N.Y. 1906, p.20
  13. ^ Hillier & Sons (1977). Catalogue of Trees & Shrubs. Hillier, Ampfield, UK.
  14. ^ Hillier & Sons Sales inventory 1962 to 1977 (unpublished).
  15. ^ Sholtz, H. F. (1957). Rock Elm (Ulmus thomasii). Lake States Forest Experimental Station Paper 47:16.
  16. ^ Mino, Masanobu; Maekawa, Kenji; Ogawa, Ken'Ichi; Yamagishi, Hiroshi; Inoue, Masayoshi (2002). "Cell Death Processes during Expression of Hybrid Lethality in Interspecific F1 Hybrid between Nicotiana gossei Domin and Nicotiana tabacum". Plant Physiology. 130 (4): 1776–1787. doi:10.1104/pp.006023. PMC 166689. PMID 12481061.
  17. ^ "Rock Elm (Ulmus thomasii)". The 2012 National Register of Big Trees. American Forests. 2012.
  18. ^ Elwes, H. J. & Henry, A. (1913). The Trees of Great Britain & Ireland. Vol. VII. 1848–1929. Republished 2004 Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-108-06938-0
  19. ^ "The National Botanic Gardens of Ireland".

External links[edit]