Siberian Elm

Illustration of Siberian elm leaves and twigs.
Scientific Name
Ulmus pumila
Ulmaceae (elms)

Siberian elm is a medium-sized tree with somewhat drooping branches and a rounded canopy.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 1–2 inches long, edges evenly, simply toothed (teeth all one size, with no smaller teeth on each tooth); tip pointed, base with sides nearly equal.

Bark is dark gray, becoming deeply grooved, with long, flat ridges that form a broad interlacing network.

Twigs are very slender, flexible, greenish-brown and hairy when young, turning brown to gray and smooth with age, drooping.

Flowers March–April, stalk short or absent, appearing with or before the leaves emerge, in tight clusters along the twig, not drooping; flowers greenish, petals absent.

Fruits April–May, in tight clusters along the twig; fruit ¼–½ to inches long, seed surrounded by a thin wing, wing light brown, round, notched at the tip, smooth (without hairs); seed solitary, thin, surface wrinkled.

Other Common Names
Chinese Elm
Height: to 60 feet.
Where To Find
image of Siberian Elm distribution map
Occasionally planted and readily escapes from cultivation. At one time, this elm was seen as a reasonable alternative to American elm, which was declining due to Dutch elm disease, but Siberian elm has many problems in our area and is no longer widely planted. Most trees now growing in urban and suburban areas were not planted but have merely been allowed to grow by homeowners unaware of the wood's brittle nature.
Siberian elm is native to East Asia, including China, eastern Siberia, and Turkestan. It was once planted as an alternative to American elm because of its resistance to Dutch elm disease. But it is plagued by elm leaf beetles, making the tree unattractive through most of the summer. Also, its weak wood breaks easily in storms or under the weight of ice, and its large limbs are subject to splitting from the crotches of older trees. If that is not enough, it is also a prolific (weedy) seeder. Its worst qualities have earned it the unappealing nickname of "piss elm," and many people know it only by that name.
Although many know Siberian elm as "Chinese elm," another species, Ulmus parviflora, is more correctly called "Chinese elm." It blooms in autumn and has not been known to escape cultivation in Missouri. Siberian elms are not a good choice for Missouri landscaping. Many people will "top" Siberian elms hoping to make them less hazardous, but within half a decade the new branches will have developed, but with even weaker branch attachments, plus the topping promotes decay. Best to remove the whole tree and replace with a more suitable species.
This tree offers to wildlife what any other medium-sized tree offers: shade, a place to build nests, and a place for insects to live.
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Similar Species
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.