Garden Inventory: Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

Ulmus parvifolia, commonly known as the Chinese Elm[1] or Lacebark Elm, is a species native to China, Japan, North Korea and Vietnam.[2] It has been described as “one of the most splendid elms, having the poise of a graceful Nothofagus”.[3] 

A small to medium deciduous, semi-deciduous (rarely semi-evergreen) tree growing to 10–18 m (30–60 ft) tall with a slender trunk and crown. The leathery, lustrous green single-toothed leaves are small, 2–5 cm long by 1–3 cm broad, and often retained as late as December or even January in Europe and North America. The apetalous wind-pollinated perfect flowers are produced in early autumn, small and inconspicuous. The fruit is a samara, elliptic to ovate-elliptic, 10–13 mm long by 6–8 mm broad.[2] The samara is mostly glabrous, the seed at the centre or toward the apex, borne on a stalk 1–3 mm in length; it matures rapidly and disperses by late autumn. The trunk has a handsome, flaking bark of mottled greys with tans and reds, giving rise to its other common name, the Lacebark Elm, although scarring from major branch loss can lead to large canker-like wounds —

This tree dominates our front garden and, if left un-pruned long enough, can obscure the entire front of the house with it s large, heavily leaved and somewhat weeping limbs. We let it go far too long and just recently had it pruned back. Each time we have it pruned, I am reminded of how much I like it. The particular specimen was badly abused when we moved in 16 years ago, being nothing much more than a large trunk and nothing else. Luckily, after many years of proper pruning I think it looks like an elm once again. It has a nice habit and is truly a showpiece in the garden.

Chinese elm are a common “street tree” here in the San Fernando Valley, but I think it might be possible that are a few American Elms scattered about. I have noticed trees with similar stems and leaves, but with a completely different bark and it had been confusing my identification. Now I am going to go back to those tress and see if, perhaps, they are the American Elm.

Other than regular pruning, our elm requires almost no other care, which makes it a great tree for my garden. 

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Photos of Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) with closeups of  leaves,  bark, and growing habit.

More information on Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia):

Previously on Garden Inventory:

Garden Inventory is a series where I begin an inventory of all the plants and trees in my garden. Along with some of my own pictures, I will link to various sources of information about each plant and tree so we can learn a little more together.

I would also like to highlight your special plants and tress. Pass along your favorite plants in the comments and I will use them for future Garden Inventory posts. — Douglas