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What's up with those ragged looking elms?

Kathy Zuzek, Extension Educator

Siberian elms are showing the effect
of heavy seed production this year.
Photo: K. Zuzek
Siberian elm is a non-native tree that was introduced into the United States from Asia in the 1860’s for its hardiness, rapid growth rate, and its ability to grow in a wide range of soils.  This 50-70' tree is often found growing in yards and along boulevards where it produces prolific seed that germinates easily and quickly to form thickets of new seedlings under parent trees.  Wind can carry seed to other areas and Siberian elm has also naturalized throughout Minnesota.  It invades prairies, stream banks, and disturbed open areas with sparse vegetation.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources lists Siberian elm on its Invasive Terrestrial Plant page because it can invade and dominate disturbed prairies in a few years’ time.

Siberian elm seed.  Photo: S. Hurst,
You may have noticed Siberian elms in the landscape this spring that look sick or stressed with sparse foliage and open brown canopies.  Unfortunately, seed production on this weedy species was even heavier than normal this year.  Siberian elms are putting resources and energy into the production of the round brown wafer-like seeds at the expense of leaf production.  Siberian elm leaves are also much smaller (1-2” long and 1” wide) than those of our native American elm (2.5” or more in length and width).  The combination of small leaf size, sparse leaf production, and heavy seed production resulted in trees with open and off-color canopies this year.
Small Siberian elm leaves.  Photo: S.
Dewey, Utah State University,
Larger leaves of American elm.
 Photo: P. Wray, Iowa State University,

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