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Scientific: Ulmus parvifolia
Common: Chinese elm, evergreen elm, lacebark elm
Family: Ulmaceae
Origin: China

Invasive secrets: Chinese elm trees can naturalize (reseed) in heavily and not so heavily irrigated landscapes in Phoenix and southern California.

Pronounciation: UL-mus par-vi-FO-le-a

Hardiness zones
8,9, 12-24
USDA 6-11

Landscape Use: Shade and/or accent tree for oasis or mesic landscape design motifs, even raised planters. Not a 'desert' tree. Also, makes an excellent bonsai.

Form & Character: Upright, inverted-vase crown architecture with an open canopy and umbrella-topped canopy, small branches are weeping especially if trees were propagated from stem cuttings. With proper training, seed-propagated Chinese elms will have a nice, rounded, symmetrical form. However, Chinese elm trees propagated by stem cutting will usually struggle to show full symmetry and will commonly lean or slant one way or another.

A special note about form: It is duly noted that Chinese elm trees can have the quintessential, inverted-vase form that's the ideal form for trees in urban settings.

Growth Habit: Semi-evergreen to deciduous, woody, broadleaf perennial tree, moderate to fast grower to 40- to 60-feet tall with equal spread.

Foliage/Texture: Small, 1-to 3-inches long, elliptic to ovate leaves with serrate margins and an inequilaterally or cuneate base, alternate arrangement, 'bark' is shed in a 'puzzle-piece' fashion; medium fine texture.

Flowers & Fruits: Flowers greenish yellow in late summer of year followed by single-winged samara that are greenish pink in late fall to winter.

Seasonal Color: Brilliant, light green foliage during spring, sometimes senescing foliage turns yellowish-red during years in Phoenix when late fall and early winter temperatures are cooler than normal (such as happened during the fall and winter of 2022/23). Chinese elm trees remain evergreen in coastal southern California.

Temperature: Cold hardy, but in Phoenix the foliage will become marginally necrotic in late summer and early fall due to summer heat stress.

Light: Full sun

Soil: Tolerant

Watering: Requires regular irrigations during spring, summer and early fall. Chinese elm is not 'desert' drought tolerant!

A landscape case study: Chinese elms are mesic landscape trees. As established landscape trees, they cannot withstand landscape renovations that are done to conserve water, as is often encouraged by municipal rebate offers in many Arizona desert cities. Here is a beautiful Chinese elm tree in a Phoenix neighborhood that was successfully cultured as a residental lawn tree. A few years hence, "new owners" decided to convert their "water-wasting lawn" front yard into a "water-conserving" xeric landscape complete with gravel as an inorganic surface mulch. Not only did this design change serve to enhance global warming and the Phoenix urban heat island on a microclimate scale, it also sadly led to the death of this once beautiful tree.

Pruning: Needs to be vigorously trained and staked when young, ESPECIALLY if asexually propagated from stem cuttings.

Propagation: Cutting or seed. Most locally available trees are asexually propagated from stem cuttings.

Disease and Pests: Sometimes susceptible to Texas root rot, but resistance to Dutch elm disease. In addition, cultivars 'Drake', 'Truegreen' and 'Evergreen' are susceptible to canker disease (Fusarium lateritium and Diplodia sp).

Additional comments: Chinese elm is one of the BEST mesic shade trees for lower Arizona desert landscapes. It has the quintessential form (inverted vase like) for urban planting sites. There are numerous cultivars such as:

Taxonomic confusion: Chinese elm is sometimes to often confused with its taxonomic cousin Ulmus pumila (Siberian elm) in the nursery and landscape trades. They are definitely NOT the same!! Siberian elm flowers in spring, has a relatively stiff and rigid growth habit, has weaker and more brittle wood, produces more litter and debris (aka storm damage), and has less glossy leaves than Chinese elm. In the United States, most experts outside of the upper Midwest and Plains states (where Chinese elm does not grow) consider Siberian elm to be a trash tree when compared to the more elegant Chinese elm.