Ulmus rubra

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: slippery elm 
Type: Tree
Family: Ulmaceae
Native Range: Central and southern United States
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 40.00 to 60.00 feet
Spread: 30.00 to 50.00 feet
Bloom Time: March to April
Bloom Description: Reddish-green
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Rain Garden
Flower: Insignificant
Tolerate: Drought, Air Pollution

Culture

Grow in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerant of light shade. Prefers rich, moist loams. Adapts to both wet and dry sites. Generally tolerant of urban conditions.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Ulmus rubra, commonly called slippery elm, is a medium sized, coarse-textured, somewhat weedy, deciduous tree that typically grows to 40-60’ (less frequently to 100’) tall with a vase-shaped to broad-rounded crown. It is distinguished by its downy twigs, red-hairy buds (particularly noticable in winter) and slimy red inner bark (rubra meaning red). It is native to southern Ontario and to the eastern and central U.S. In Missouri, it typically occurs in dry upland areas or rocky woods and along streams throughout the state (Steyermark). It generally reaches its greatest size in moist bottomland or floodplain soils. Insignificant small reddish-green flowers appear in spring before the foliage emerges. Flowers give way to single-seeded wafer-like samaras (each tiny seed is surrounded by a flattened circular papery wing). Seeds mature in April-May as the leaves reach full size. Broad oblong to obovate, dark green leaves (to 4-8” long) are sandpapery above and hairy beneath with serrate margins and asymetrical bases. Leaves often emerge with a red tinge. Leaves typically turn an undistinguished dull yellow in fall. Common name is in reference to the slippery-sweet, fibrous, red inner bark that Native Americans peeled from twigs and branches in spring for medicinal use to treat fevers, inflammations, wounds and sore throat. Strips of the moist bark were also chewed to quench thirst. Native Americans also used the bark for canoes, particularly when birches were unavailable. Synonymous with Ulmus fulva.

Genus name comes from the Latin name.

Specific epithet means red.

Problems

Dutch elm disease, a fatal fungal disease spread by airborne bark beetles, attacks the water-conducting tissue of the tree, resulting in wilting, defoliation and death. Phloem necrosis is a disease caused by a phytoplasma that attacks the food-conducting tissue of the tree, usually resulting in a loosening of the bark, wilting, defoliation and death. Wetwood is a bacterial disease that results in wilting and dieback. Various wilts, rots, cankers and leaf spots may also occur. Insect visitors include borers, leaf miner, beetles, mealy bugs, caterpillars and scale.

Garden Uses

This native elm is generally not used as a landscape tree because of its coarse texture and susceptibility to elm diseases. Though common in many parts of its native range, it is rarely available in commerce.