Wych Elm Tree

Reviewed by Sally Painter
Wych Elm Tree

The Wych Elm tree is a hardy specimen that has evolved into a popular landscaping addition over the years. Its towering appearance, pretty purple flowers and winged fruit are just some of its many attributes. In addition to its natural beauty, the Wych Elm is not terribly challenging to propagate, which is why growers of varying experience choose to plant the tree on their property.

Appearance of the Tree

The strong and handsome Wych Elm can reach heights up to 100 feet. At the peak of its maturity the tree is hard to miss.

Its massive size is not the Wych Elm's only noteworthy trait. Other distinguishing characteristics include:

  • Bark: The tree's bark varies from grey to dark brown and features elongated creases that run up and down the trunk.
Wych Elm Bark
  • Leaves: Wych elm leaves are oval with a long pointed tip. The dark green leaves have serrated edges and tiny hairs on the underside. In autumn the leaves change from dark green to yellow.
Green Elm leaves closeup
  • Flowers: The tree's flowers are purple and grow in clusters during the spring.
  • Fruit: The fruit is known as a samara or winged seed pod. The seeds are contained in the middle of the nut-like winged fruit which grows in green clusters before turning brown in the summer.
Seeds of Wych Elm on branch

The giant tree is one of the sturdiest Elm species on the planet and is almost as broad as it is tall.

Wych Elm Tree Types

The Wych Elm hails from the genus Ulmus which includes dozens of different species. The tree is commonly grouped into a subspecies of the Ulmus genus composed of the following:

  • Ulmus glabra: Characterized by its broad leaves, the tree is often recognized for its short, forked trunk and a low, broad crown.
Wych Elm (Ulmus Glabra) leaves
  • Ulmus glabra montana: The leaves of this subspecies are narrower than those found on the Ulmus glabra. In addition, the tree sports a long, skinny trunk and narrow leaf canopy.

The Many Looks of the Wych Elm Tree

Old Wych Elm Tree
Golden Wych Elm
Great Wych Elm in Winter
Wych Elm tree against blue sky
Wych Elm branch in springtime
Leaves and fruit of Wych Elm

Where the Wych Elm Grows

While the Wych Elm grows primarily in Europe, including Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia, the species also has a large population in:

  • Spain
  • Asia
  • Greece
  • Iran
  • Greenland

The tree prefers light sandy and clay soils that are moderately moist and well-drained. It also thrives in places where it can receive full sun exposure. Due to its hardy nature, the Wych Elm is able to tolerate maritime exposure and atmospheric pollution.

Wych Elm in Autumn

Popular Uses

The Wych Elm is primarily used for its hardwood which is exceptionally durable. The tree's twisted grain is resistant to water. Consequently, the tree's timber is often used to craft:

  • Docks
  • Boats
  • Furniture
  • Flooring
  • Caskets
  • Wheel hubs

The fiber from the tree's inner bark is also used to make ropes, baskets and mats.

In addition to possessing valuable wood, the tree has a number of medicinal uses, such as treating diarrhea and other stomach ailments. The bark of the tree is also stripped and heated to treat wounds, skin ulcers and eczema.

Aged Elm wood planks

Interesting Facts

The Wych Elm is deeply rooted in history, namely for its association with death. Many people believe it gained this reputation because of how often the tree's wood was used to make coffins. Other cultures believe the tree has special fertility powers and would dance around it when looking to conceive.

Other interesting facts about the Wych Elm include:

  • The word "Wych" is derived from Middle English and means "pliable."
  • The Wych Elm's timber is almost impossible to split which is why some cultures use the tree to fashion wooden water pipes.
  • Some Wych Elms have survived more than 200 years.
Mature Wych Elm in Bloom

Wych Elm Diseases

Like its cousins, the Wych Elm often finds itself a target for pests and diseases. Among the most common infections attacking the tree include:

  • Dutch Elm: The infamous disease is fungus related and attacks the tree via elm beetles. The pests burrow into the wood of the tree and block the life-giving sap that flows through the Wych Elm. Infected trees don't live long.
  • Leaf Spots: Symptoms include large, brown spots which form on the leaves at the end of the growing season. In severe cases, the spots turn into blotches and can cause premature leaf drop.

In addition to the disease, the tree is also preyed upon by a number of pests, including caterpillars, leaf miners, and mealy bugs, which devour its leaves, and could affect the Wych Elm's branches if left untreated.

Tall Wych Elm Tree

Wych Elm Care

Property owners looking to add a stately tree to their landscapes can't go wrong with the Wych Elm. However, in order to keep the tree alive and well from season to season, it's a good idea to follow these growing tips:

  • The Wych Elm can tolerate a variety of soil types, but it prefers moist, well-drained soil that is not extremely acidic.
  • Do not overwater the Wych Elm.
  • Excessive moisture is bad for the tree's root structure.
  • Due to its enormous size, avoid planting the tree under power lines or near sidewalks or other structures that may be affected by its large spread.
  • Do not plant other shade sensitive plants under the Wych Elm as they will be robbed of precious sunlight.
  • It is not necessary to prune the Wych Elm on a regular basis as its large shape is what makes it wind resistant and therefore an excellent border for expansive properties.
Old Wych Elm planted in 1875

Lofty Wych Elm Trees

While the Wych Elm is revered in some cultures, it is mostly appreciated for its hardwood. The aesthetically pleasing shape, purple blooms and its enormous height make the Wych Elm a popular landscaping choice.

Wych Elm Tree