Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 837 Ulmus parvifolia

Common Names: Chinese elm, lacebark elm, Drake elm Family: Ulmaceae (elm Family)
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Chinese elm
The Chinese elm, this is a selection called 'Dynasty', has colorful fall foliage and its beautiful exfoliating bark adds interest to the winter landscape.


Chinese elm has the most beautiful bark - green, gray, orange and brown mottled and flaking in small thin plates. This is a handsome tree, often with a trunk that forks and produces a vase shape similar to American elm (U. americana). Chinese elm usually gets no more than 40-50 ft (12.2-15.2 m) tall. The leaves are typical elm leaves - about 2 in (5.1 cm) long, elliptic, toothed, conspicuously veined and with unequal bases. Chinese elm is tardily deciduous, almost evergreen in mild climates. Most elms produce their little winged "samaras" in the spring; this one fruits in the fall. The samaras are flat and papery, about 1/3 in (0.8 cm) across and rather showy hanging in dense clusters. This is a highly variable species and there are many cultivars in the trade, selected for form, size, bark color, cold hardiness and foliage characteristics.

Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants lists 27 named cultivars. Siberian elm (U. pumila is sometimes sold as U. parvifolia, but Siberian elm fruits in the spring, has rough bark, and is not nearly as desirable an ornamental, with brittle branches that are constantly breaking off and leaves that are unusually susceptible to insect damage.

Chinese elm bark
The Chinese elm has beautiful exfoliating bark that adds interest to the winter landscape.


Ulmus parvifolia, the Chinese or lacebark elm's native range extends across parts of China, Korea and Japan.


Chinese elm is a fast growing tree that is adaptable to most soil types. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Regular garden watering. Chinese elm is not as tolerant of drought as Siberian elm. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Sow seed outside in containers as soon as they ripen in fall. Cultivars are sometimes grafted onto seedlings. Greenwood tip cuttings may be rooted under glass with bottom heat.
Chinese elm
The Chinese elm is a tough durable little tree that is often used in commercial plantings like this individual decorating a dry cleaner's parking lot.
Chinese elm leaves and samaras
The leaves and samaras of the 'Dynasty' Chinese elm are particularly colorful in autumn.


Most of the elms make great shade and avenue trees, and Chinese elm is one of the best. This is a good replacement for American elm which is apparently going extinct due to Dutch elm disease. Foliage in autumn often turns shades of red and purple. With its multi-colored exfoliating bark, Chinese elm is especially attractive in winter. There are some small cultivars that are used for bonsai; 'Hokkaido' has tiny leaves and gets only about 1 ft (0.3 m) tall.


Chinese elm is a tough little tree, tolerant of urban air and soils and resistant to Dutch elm disease. Fast growing and adaptable, this is a good choice when you want a shade tree for a small landscape.


Chinese elm trees are prodigious reseeders. In some regions this species is invasive and is disrupting native plant populations. Before you plant this tree, check locally to determine if it is causing problems in your area.

Steve Christman 10/22/00; updated 1/25/04, 8/25/06, 6/9/09, 11/18/10

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Ulmus species profiled on Floridata:

Ulmus americana

( American elm )

Ulmus parvifolia

( Chinese elm, lacebark elm, Drake elm )

Ulmus pumila

( Siberian elm )

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