The Elm most frequently seen is the English Elm,
which is therefore entitled to its alternative
name of Common Elm. Constantly grown as a hedgerow
tree, it is met with at every turn, though it
is much less plentiful in Scotland than in other
parts of the United Kingdom.
It is in all respects very similar to the Wych
Elm, but its leaves are smaller – usually
from two to three inches long, the twigs often
covered with a corky bark, and the leaves do not
have the base over-lapping the leaf-stalk as in
The leaves are proportionately narrower than those
of the Wych Elm, and it will be found that the
hairs which cover the midrib below possess in
minor degree the irritating qualities of the Nettle’s
stings. This is a fact not generally known. Examination
of these hairs shows that they are constructed
much on the same plan as those of the Nettle –
a member of a closely related family, by the way.
The fact that these leaves are browsed by cattle
and deer may explain this development of the hairs,
which, whilst they may serve to keep off sheep,
have not yet reached a degree of acridity sufficient
to protect them from the larger beasts.
Both flowers and samaras are about a third smaller
than those of the Wych Elm; but fertile seed is
very seldom produced, and the tree seeks to reproduce
itself by throwing up abundant suckers round the
base of the bole, and even from root-branches
at a considerable distance from the trunk. These,
of course, if allowed to grow, would soon surround
the tree with copse.
The English Elm often attains a greater height
with its straighter trunk than the Wych Elm, but
its girth is not so great, seldom being more than
twenty feet. Its dark wood is harder and finer
grained than that produced by the Wych Elm. Its
favour as a hedgerow tree is probably due to the
fact that it gives shade which is not obnoxious
to the growth of grass.
All four species are subject to a great amount
of variation, and in nurserymen’s catalogues
these forms have appropriate names, but they are
not regarded as of sufficient permanence to merit
scientific distinction. In point of age Elms are
known to exceed five hundred years.
In October the leaves, which have for some time
assumed a very dull dark-green tint, suddenly
turn to orange, then fade to pale yellow, and
fall in showers.
Among the insects that feed upon the Elm’s
foliage, the most noteworthy is the caterpillar
of the Large Tortoiseshell Butterfly, and in our
London parks and squares the Elms are much infested
by the caterpillars of the Vapourer Moth, whose
wingless females may be seen, like short-legged
spiders, on the bark, whilst the male flutters
in an apparently aimless way on wings of rich
brown with central white spots.
The name Elm was derived from the Latin Ulmus,
and appears to indicate an instrument of punishment
– probably from its rods having been used
to punish slaves.