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American elm

A group of American elms in fall color.

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

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.  

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 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • midwinter,
  • 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).


“These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Jefferson (Ulmus americana 'Jefferson'):  Excellent resistance to Dutch elm disease; vase-shaped habit; considered sterile.

New Harmony (Ulmus americana 'New Harmony'):  Excellent resistance to Dutch elm disease; vase-shaped habit.

Prairie Expedition® (Ulmus americana 'Lewis & Clark'):  Excellent resistance to Dutch elm disease; vase-shaped habit.

Princeton (Ulmus americana 'Princeton'):  Good resistance to Dutch elm disease and fair resistance to elm leaf beetle; vase-shaped habit.

Valley Forge (Ulmus americana 'Valley Forge'):  Excellent resistance to Dutch elm disease; vase-shaped habit.

Location of Ulmus americana (American elm) at the Arboretum