Characteristics of Wych Elm / Scots Elm Tree (Ulmus glabra) in the Wild

Ulmus glabra
Wych elm or Scots elm (Ulmus glabra) is a species of European Elm that grows in the mountains at altitudes up to 1,500 m above sea level. Its natural habitats range from Ireland to the east to the Urals, and from the Arctic Circle to the south to the Peloponnese mountains in Greece. This tree is also found growing in Iran.

Wych elm is a large deciduous tree, the tree likes locations with moist soil and high humidity. Wych elm trees can form pristine forests in Scandinavia and appear as far north as latitude 67° N in Beiarndi, Norway. Wych elm has been successfully introduced as far north as Troms, Norway and Alta, Norway (70° N), and Narsarsuaq, near the southern tip of Greenland (61° N).

The wych elm is the most common elm in the north and west of the British Isles and is now recognized as the only undisputed species of elm native to England. Due to its former abundance in Scotland, this tree is sometimes known as the “Scots Elm”.

Wych elm is closely related to Bergmann’s elm (Ulmus bergmanniana) and Manchurian elm (Ulmus drawerniata), native to northeast Asia, as well as Himalayan elm (Ulmus wallichiana).


Characteristics of Wych Elm Leaf

Ulmus glabra Leaf

The leaves are alternate, 6-17 cm long by 3-12 cm wide, ovate with an asymmetric base, lobes often cover short petioles, and the upper surface is rough. Leaves on young shoots growing in shade sometimes have three or more lobes near the apex.


Characteristics of Wych Elm Flower

Ulmus glabra Flower

The flowers are hermaphrodite, appearing before the leaves in early spring, produced in clusters of 10-20, 10 mm long, and wind-pollinated.


Characteristics of Wych Elm Fruit

Ulmus glabra Fruit

The fruit is wingless, 20 mm long, 15 mm wide, with a single seed, round, 6 mm long, and ripens in late spring.


Characteristics of Wych Elm Tree

Ulmus glabra Tree
Source: Tree Library

Wych elm can grow into a large tree up to 40 meters high, usually with a broad crown, and has a short trunk up to 2 meters in diameter.

The wych elm tree is moderate shades tolerant but requires deep, rich soil like those commonly found along river valleys. This species is intolerant of acidic and waterlogged soils.

Although rarely used as roadside shade trees, wych elm trees can be surprisingly tolerant of urban air pollution, limited growing conditions, and severe pollarding.

The wood is prized by craftsmen for its color, pattern, and then worked an occasional greenish sheen. Old trees produce cracks and markings typical of ‘burr elm’ wood.

Currently, about 40 cultivars of Ulmus glabra have been cultivated, although at least 30 may now be lost to cultivation as a result of elm disease and/or other factors.

Wych elm is now grown not only as a wood-producing tree, but also as an ornamental tree in large yards, public gardens, and bonsai.


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