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What Is an Elm?

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  • Written By: Pamela Pleasant
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2014
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An elm refers to several kinds trees that belong to the ulmaceae family of trees. Although they all are in the same family, they can have specific differences. For example, one species of elm may grow larger than another or varieties may have denser bark or differently shaped leaves. These types of trees are found all over the world with various species thriving in different climates. It is important to be able to identify an elm tree so that certain tree diseases can be prevented.

Elm trees originated in Asia around 40 million years ago and they were then transferred to Indonesia. In the 19th century they arrived in North America and Europe. During this time, cultivators used them as ornamental trees. Avenues and streets were often lined with elms, where they created a tunneling effect over the streets. The fallen leaves rapidly decomposed, so they were also easier to maintain and to take care of.

The thick dense wood of an elm tree makes it virtually split resistant. This means that it can handle water or pollution damage better than other types of trees. Furniture such as chairs or tables are made with this dense wood, and because it is able to handle environmental changes it is also used to make coffins. Another benefit of the elm is that it grows at a fast rate. It is so strong that it can withstand wind damage and it can also tolerate cooler climates and soil types.

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Certain species of elms are susceptible to diseases and water damage. After the wood is cut from the tree it is water resistant but the root system and the base of the tree can be damaged by an overabundance of water, while it is growing. Dutch elm disease is micro-fungus that can easily kill this tree by blocking the nutrient flow. The scolytus beetle spreads this disease from tree to tree. By cross breading different species of this tree, cultivators have successfully created disease-resistant elms.

A healthy elm tree can live for 300 years and these trees can increase property values. Most types of these trees grow to reach 40 feet (12 meters) in height but American elms can grow to reach 115 feet (35 meters) in height. This leafy tree can provide ample shade and cooling during the summer months and this cooling effect is equal to five air conditioning units.

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