Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

American Elm Before and After Dutch Elm Disease

Ulmus americana, a great American native tree

American elm

I have long admired this tree in Hopkinsville, KY. I've never held one of its leaves in my hand, but I've stood under it, looked up at its leaves, and thought, "My gosh, that is an elm tree!"

Though the American Elm population of the United States has been decimated by Dutch Elm disease, some elms have managed to elude or fend off the disease, and this seems to be one of the survivors.

I believe this big beauty is ulmus americana, the American elm. The rock elm is also a tall tree, but it has a narrower crown with the branches growing in more of a vertical direction. The American elm is noted for its fountain shape and wide crown, and this tree certainly exemplifies those characteristics.

An interesting thing about elms is that their bark was sometimes used to make canoes in old times. The Shawnees often skinned a long tube of bark off an elm tree at the river's edge and put together a canoe that was good enough to get them to the other side. (Of course, this killed the elm tree.)

One of the best places to look at photos of elms in the days of their glory is the American Environmental Photographs, 1891-1936 (AEP) collection, which is owned by the University of Chicago. These photos document some of America's great American elms before Dutch Elm disease began to take its toll in the 1930's.

I don't think I can legally use the AEP images under the guidelines of fair use, so I'll give a link to a search for "American elm". Be sure to look at photos 1 and 14, if you look at no others.

There's good news about modern American elms! Several cultivars with resistance or tolerance to Dutch elm disease have been developed in recent years. Look for Princeton, Liberty, Valley Forge, New Harmony or Jefferson in the name. Hopefully, even more cultivars will emerge as time goes by.

The buds of the American elm and its seeds (produced in spring) are eaten by over a dozen game birds and songbirds, as well as rabbits, squirrels and foxes. Along streams, the tree also provides food for wood ducks, beaver, and muskrat. Deer may graze on the twigs and foliage.

The American elm can live up to 200 years, and it tolerates a wide range of growing conditions. It can be expected to grow to a height of 20 feet or more within ten years. It is a native tree of nearly every state east of the Rocky Mountains.

The elm's stout branches resist weather damage, but the tree is vulnerable to various insect attacks (galls, borers, etc.) as well as various types of wilts, cankers, etc. (in addition to Dutch elm disease.) You may have to spray it from time to time. Your county extension agent should be able to advise a schedule of preventative care. With some attention to its needs, it will be a tree of generous shade and great beauty and grace.

2 comments -- please add yours:

Collagemama said...

Venturing Back on the Market with American Elms

All Things Considered, May 8, 2007 ·
The American elm tree was decimated in the 20th century by Dutch elm disease. But the tree may be making a comeback in America in the very near future, thanks to Roger Holloway.

The nurseryman from Georgia has been trying to raise disease-resistant elms, specifically the Princeton elm, for the past 10 years. And, as Holloway tells NPR's Robert Siegel, the elms are now available in large quantities to the public: Home Depot is selling 12,000 of his trees.

Genevieve said...

Great news. Thanks, Collagemama.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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