Slippery Elm, A Common Tree in North America

Ulmus Rubra , A Top 100 Common Tree in North America

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), identified by its "slippery" inner bark, is commonly a medium-sized tree of moderately fast growth that may live to be 200 years old. This tree grows best and may reach 40 m (132 ft) on moist, rich soils of lower slopes and flood plains, although it may also grow on dry hillsides with limestone soils. It is abundant and associated with many other hardwood trees in its wide range.

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The Silviculture of Slippery Elm

R. Merrilees, Illustrator

Slippery elm is not an important lumber tree; the hard strong wood is considered inferior to American elm even though they are often mixed and sold together as soft elm. The tree is browsed by wildlife and the seeds are a minor source of food. It has long been cultivated but succumbs to Dutch elm disease.

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The Images of Slippery Elm

Steve Nix provides several images of parts of slippery elm. The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Urticales > Ulmaceae > Ulmus rubra. Slippery elm is also sometimes called red elm, gray elm, or soft elm.

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The Range of Slippery Elm

Range of Slippery Elm
Range of Slippery Elm. USFS

Slippery elm extends from southwestern Maine west to New York, extreme southern Quebec, southern Ontario, northern Michigan, central Minnesota, and eastern North Dakota; south to eastern South Dakota, central Nebraska, southwestern Oklahoma, and central Texas; then east to northwestern Florida and Georgia. Slippery elm is uncommon in that part of its range lying south to Kentucky and is most abundant in the southern part of the Lake States and in the cornbelt of the Midwest.

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Slippery Elm at Virginia Tech

Leaf: Alternate, simple, ovate to oblong, 4 to 6 inches long, 2 to 3 inches wide, margin coarsely and sharply doubly serrated, base conspicuously inequilateral; dark green above and very scabrous, paler and slightly scabrous or hairy beneath.

Twig: Often stouter than American elm, slightly zigzag, ashy gray to brownish-gray (often mottled), scabrous; false terminal bud, lateral buds dark, chestnut brown to nearly black; buds may be rusty-hairy, twigs mucilaginous when chewed.

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Fire Effects on Slippery Elm

Information regarding the fire effects on slippery elm is scant. Literature suggests that American elm is a fire decreaser. Low- or moderate-severity fire top-kills American elm trees up to sapling size and wounds larger trees. Slippery elm is probably affected by fire in the same way due to its similar morphology.

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Your Citation
Nix, Steve. "Slippery Elm, A Common Tree in North America." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nix, Steve. (2023, April 5). Slippery Elm, A Common Tree in North America. Retrieved from Nix, Steve. "Slippery Elm, A Common Tree in North America." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).