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The English Elm

UK Garden Centre - Information about the English Elm tree

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Family Ulmaceae
Ulmus procera

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 U. glabra.
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.


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