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TREES & plants

Japanese zelkova

A mature specimen of Japanese zelkova.

Japanese zelkova is closely related to elms but is resistant to Dutch elm disease (DED). It tolerates urban conditions well and can be used as a street tree. This tree has interesting bark, clean serrated foliage and good fall color.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name: 
Zelkova serrata
All Common Names: 
Japanese zelkova
Family (English): 
Elm
Family (Botanic): 
Ulmaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Non-native
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • City parkway, 
  • Wide median, 
  • Restricted sites
Landscape Uses: 
  • Parkway/street, 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Mature Height: 
50-80 feet
Mature Width: 
50-75 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Highly susceptible to ice damage
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Vase-shaped
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate, 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Tolerant of both acidic and alkaline soils.  Avoid wet sites.

Disease, pests, and problems

Phloem necrosis and cankers are possible.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Zelkova is closely related to elms, but it is resistant to Dutch elm disease.
Drought tolerant and fairly tolerant of urban sites once established.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Japan, eastern China, Taiwan, and Korea

Bark color and texture 

Grayish-brown with numerous lenticels.  With age, the bark becomes more mottled in color and exfoliates (peels) slightly.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves with sharply serrated margins.  Ovate leaves,  1 1/2 to 2 inches long, with rounded bases and long-pointed tips.
Dark green in summer changing to yellow, orange, or reddish-purple.

Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata)Japanese zelkova leavesphoto: John Hagstrom

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small, inconspicuous flowers in spring.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

A small drupe; not ornamentally important.

Cultivars and their differences 

City Sprite® Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata 'JFS-KW1'):  Oval to vase-shaped; 25 feet high by 18 feet wide; yellow fall color.

Green Vase Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata 'Green Vase'):  This cultivar has a a more narrow vase shape than the species.  Foliage is dark green in summer, changing to a mix of orange, bronze and red.  As a young tree it shows a faster rate of growth.  Good winter hardiness.

Halka Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata 'Halka'):  Faster growing as a young tree.  Vase-shaped habit. Fall color is yellow.

Musashino Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata 'Musashino'):  Narrow vase-shaped form, only 15 to 20 feet wide.  Yellow fall color.

Village Green Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata 'Village Green'): Wider habit (40 feet wide).  Good winter hardiness and reddish fall color. 

Wireless® Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata 'Schmidtlow'): Broadly spreading vase shape (24 feet high by 36 feet wide); red fall color.

Zelkova serrata or Japanese zelkova