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TREES & plants

American elm

Elms are loved for their graceful, stately shape, with branches like spreading fountains, and their green leaves that turn gold in fall. Sadly, the American elm (Ulmus americana) can no longer be recommended because it is vulnerable to a devastating pathogen called Dutch elm disease. However, due in part to research at The Morton Arboretum, other species and hybrids that are more resistant to the disease are available for planting. The biggest lesson learned from the devastation of Dutch elm disease is the importance of having a variety of trees along streets, in parks, and in home landscapes so that no disease or pest that may arrive can kill a large proportion of the trees. The American elm was the most popular tree to plant in the booming cities of the 19th century, so that by the 20th century many streets were lined with only elms and were shaded in summer by a cathedral-like ceiling of their branches. When Dutch elm disease (which actually originated in Asia) spread to the US in the 1950s, it was able to mow down elm after elm through their grafted root systems or with the help of a beetle. Today, arborists and foresters are careful to plant a diverse range of trees that will not all be vulnerable to any particular pest, disease or weather conditions. You will find a  number of disease-resistant elms in the Tree and Plant Finder, and for other alternative trees, you can consult the Plant Clinic.


Go to a list of American elm cultivars that are Dutch elm disease resistant. For other elm hybrids and cultivars that are Dutch elm disease resistant go to Elm Cultivars

Botanical name: 
Ulmus americana
All Common Names: 
American elm
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid winter
  • Late winter
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
  • Other
Shape or Form: 
  • Vase-shaped
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
  • Fast
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Generally, elms prefer sun.
Adapt easily to extremes in soil pH, moisture and heat and wind tolerance

Disease, pests, and problems

Dutch elm disease, elm yellows, elm phloem necrosis, elm bark beetle, elm leaf beetles, elm leaf miner and verticillium wilt.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-value: 3
Native to the the eastern half of the United States.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, oval, pointed leaves have doubly toothed margins. Leaf is shorter on one side of center vein than on the other. Dark green in summer, changing to yellow fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous flowers in early spring.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Seed in small oval samara (seed case with wings for wind dispersal).


Princeton (Ulmus americana 'Princeton'):  Resistant to Dutch elm disease and elm leaf beetle; vase-shaped habit, fast growth

Valley Forge (Ulmus americana 'Valley Forge'):  highly resistant to Dutch elm disease; vase-shaped habit