Introduced Prairie Forest Species
Urban Forest Species

Siberian Elm
(Ulmus pumila)


Ulmus is the ancient Latin name for elm. Pumila is Latin for dwarf in reference to the small leaves. This species is
incorrectly called the Chinese elm . The true Chinese elm (U. parviflora ) is a much better tree, but it is not hardy in South
Dakota. The Chinese elm has a mottled bark that peels off in irregular patches. The wood is also much stronger.

 Siberian elm is a member of Ulmaceae, the elm family, along with American elm (Ulmus americana ) and hackberry (Celtis
occidentalis ). Siberian elm leaves are deciduous, alternate , simple , 3/4 to 3 inches (2 to 8 cm) long, oval, with toothed
margins . The flowers appear before the leaves, and occur in short-stalked clusters. Fruits are 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) long circular samaras that fall as the leaves open (a common seed dispersal of flood plain species, see willow). The silver-gray twigs zigzag with a lateral bud at each turn. The bark is grayish-black and furrowed.


Siberian elm is an Asian species, native to eastern Siberia, northern China, Manchuria and Korea. In its native environment,
Siberian elm is typically found growing along streams, not much different from the habitat in which elms are found in this
country. The tree was introduced into South Dakota in 1905. Trees from the Harbin region of Manchuria are the ones best
adapted to South Dakota, since the two regions share a similar climate, hot summers and cold winters.

Natural History

Siberian elm is resistant to Dutch elm disease, but it has a number of limitations, particularly when used as a windbreak
species. In South Dakota, many of the trees are infected with a canker diseased called Botryodiplodia hypodermia . This
disease can cause branches to die and eventually can kill the tree. Siberian elm is sensitive to herbicides. They are often
stunted by herbicide applications and occasionally killed.

Life Span: In its native environment, Siberian elms can live to be 100 to 150 years old, not a very long-lived species. In
South Dakota, the average life span probably drops to 50 or 60 years.

Size: In Asia, there is a tremendous variation in height growth. In some areas of Turkestan, the trees become over 70 feet (21
m) tall, while the other extreme, a shrub form of this species, occurs in Mongolia. The national champion in Detroit,
Michigan is 226 inches (574 cm) in circumference, 146 feet (45 m) tall and has a crown spread of 112 feet (34 m)! Our state
champion in Pierre is 114 inches (290 cm) in circumference, 62 feet (19 m) tall and has a crown spread of 48 feet (15 m).


The primary use of Siberian elm in South Dakota is as a windbreak species. It is very fast growing, somewhat drought
tolerant and can live in alkaline soils . Unfortunately, the branches are very brittle and the tree develops a very open
appearance. In areas where better trees can be grown, this tree is not often planted. Two commonly planted cultivars are
Chinkota and Dropmore. The Dropmore cultivar is from seeds collected by F. L. Skinner of Dropmore, Manitoba. He
collected the seed in Harbin. The Chinkota cultivar was developed at South Dakota State University from the 'Dropmore'. It
becomes dormant a little sooner in the fall and also has a lower branching habit.

Publication of the Siberian Elm fact sheet was funded by the S.D. Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, Pierre,