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Lacebark Elm

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COMMON NAME: Lacebark Elm, Chinese Elm
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ulmus parvifolia
FAMILY: Ulmaceae

This tree in Colorado Rare. Found in southeastern Colorado. Several trees are doing very well in Rocky Ford and SE area of Colorado. Boulder has found a small lacebark and recorded it with the Champion Tree List. It is approximately 8″ in diameter. Lacebark can survive Colorado’s winters if not too extreme. More of these trees should be tried if there are means to provide a Zone 5 climate. The tree is small to medium in Colorado, probably not reaching more than 60′. It has the genetics to grow taller if conditions are right. The Rocky Ford tree is 65′ tall! If grown in open, it will attain an oval form.

Lacebark/Chinese elm is often confused with Siberian elm, Ulmus pumila, a very common tree found in Colorado’s communities. An effort is being made to use the term lacebark rather than Chinese to avoid the confusion. Siberian elm is more hardy than lacebark elm and has a more vase shaped structure. Though there are many nice examples of Siberian elm found throughout the state, it is more inferior to the smaller, compact lacebark elm.

Hardiness Zone 5.

Growth rate Moderate. There aren’t enough examples in Colorado to make judgment on its actual rate. It all depends on moisture and protection. In Kansas, a tree grew about 1.5 feet per year. The tree in Rocky Ford is probably 50 years old and is 22″ in diameter. It is the state’s champion for this species.

Foliage Alternate, simple: elliptic to ovate 3/4″ to 2 1/2″ long; deciduous; single, serrated margins with an acute apex; unequal and rounded base; dark green, lustrous and leathery looking. In fall the leaves change to a red-purple.

Buds Buds are smaller than most elms. They are brown and slightly hairy or pubescent. Twigs are slightly zig-zagged.

Flowers Flowers are inconspicuous.

Fruit Fruit is a samara similar to those of Siberian elm. They are smaller and may not be as abundant. Fruit drops in the fall.

Bark Besides the moderate size of this tree, the best characteristic is the mottled bark of gray, green, orange and brown. The interlacing of flaking bark makes it most attractive and desireable.

Insects and diseases This is a small leave elm which is very resistant to Dutch elm disease. It also resists attacks from elm leaf beetles.

Best advice This is a desirable tree in the southern part of Colorado. It can be planted as a small to medium street tree. Tree sources should be more northern. Heavier soils should not affect its survivability. If you desire to plant this tree, be sure to be clear by using its scientific name. The nursery industry is beginning to work extensively with this tree. There are many cultivars being created. Disney World has used lacebark elm extensively in their landscape and it does very well. Again, Colorado should attempt to grow more of them.

Information sources
Michael Dirr, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (University of Georgia, 1990)
Michael Kuhns, Trees of Utah and the Intermountain West (Utah State University Press, 1998)

Photo credits
Donna Davis
Rocky Ford