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ELM, MISC

Ulmus spp.


A NOTE ABOUT ELMS IN THE USA



Ulmus spp. of the family Ulmaceae

Various species of the genus Ulmus occur in Europe, western Asia, North America and Japan and depending on what report you read, there are somewhere between 50 and 200 different species. To further complicate the issue, the are OVER 300 "cultivars" (ask a botanist, if you care) that are sometimes incorrectly stated as separate species AND there are numerous varietals that are also sometimes incorrectly stated as separate species AND there are several Ulmus species that have large numbers (6 and more) of synonyms that are sometimes incorrectly stated as separate species. SO ... it appears to me that no one but a professional botanist who has some particular interest in the elm family is EVER going to attempt to sort out all the elm species names. In short, when associating botanical names with elms, BEWARE.

A very small sample of the more common Ulmus names are are:

Ulmus alata = rock elm, water elm
Ulmus americana = American elm, white elm (HAS A PAGE ON THIS SITE)
Ulmus procera = English elm, red elm (HAS A PAGE ON THIS SITE)
Ulmus pumila = Siberian elm (HAS A PAGE ON THIS SITE)
Ulmus rubra = red elm, slippery elm (HAS A PAGE ON THIS SITE)
Ulmus thomassi = rock elm, white elm

In addition to the Ulmus species, the genus Zelkova (also in the family Ulmaceae) has 4 "elm" species for which the wood characteristics are extremely similar to the Ulmus. In fact, in my single example from this genus, the end grain closeup looks EXACTLY like the Ulmus species. The species differences are presumably based on the tree characteristics, not the wood characteristics. As you will see from the common names, the Zelkova speices are not native to North America (and as far as I know, they do not grow here). They are:

Zelkova carpinifolia --- Caucasian elm
Zelkova crenata --- Turkish elm
Zelkova davidii --- Chinese thorned elm
Zelkova serrata (syn.s Z. formosana, Z. hirta, and Z. keaki) --- Japanese sawtooth elm

In a vivid demonstration of why it is that believers in botanical names versus common names are sometimes so vehement in their condemnation of common names, elm names are all over the map. In particular, both of the names "red elm" and "rock elm" each are used to refer to numerous different Ulmus species, even though in both cases the species that they refer to have characteristics that are different enough that they should NOT be give the same name.

In a vivid demonstration of why it is that believers in common names versus botanical names are sometimes so vehement in their condemnation of botanical names, there are a particular set of TWENTY (!) different botanical names that you may find used with various common names but they are all synonyms (that is, although they are different botanical names, they all refer to exactly the same species --- so much for the uniqueness of botanical names. The accepted name is Ulmus Minor and the synonyms are U. angustifolia, U. araxina, U. carpinifolia, U. diversifolia, U. foliacea, U. foliosa, U. fungosa, U. georgica , U. nitens, U. plotii, U. procera, U. reticulata, U. rotundifolia, U. sarniensis, U. sativa, U. stricta, U. suberosa, U. uzbekistanica, U. wheatleyi, and U. wyssotzkyi

A common domestic in the USA, elm often has interlocked grain and frequently has excellent bending properties.

One of the indicators that a wood is elm is the "feathering" which can be really pretty. It is caused by the combination of the open pores of a ring porous wood and the ulmiform pore groupings at the end of the latewood. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean. The "feathering" can be seen even more clearly in the enlargement. At first glance, especially right near the feathering area, this can be confused with oak, but a small amount of experience makes it clear that the two are pretty easy to tell apart (for one thing, the rays always show up in oak and are clearly not the same as in elm).



Also, the end grain of all elms show a "wavy bands" arrangement of pores that is so typical of elm that the pattern is called ulmiform" target=_blank>ulmiform even though it exists in a few other woods (though rarely to the same degree of consistency as in elm).

my samples:
NOTE: these pics were all taken in very bright incandescent lighting ("soft white" at 2700K)
colors will vary under other lighting conditions




both sides of a sample plank of winged elm / Ulmus alata


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of winged elm / Ulmus alata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of winged elm / Ulmus alata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Chinese elm / Ulmus parvifolia


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Chinese elm / Ulmus parvifolia --- HUGE enlargements are present


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Chinese elm / Ulmus parvifolia --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE and quartersawn side grain closeup from directly above. As you can clearly see in the 2nd enlargement of the end grain update, there are thin rays and the not-very-well-cleaned-up side shot shows (because it is perfectly quartersawn) the tiny ray flakes that accompany them.


both sides of a sample plank of Chinese elm / Ulmus parvifolia --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


quartersawn edge surface of the piece directly above


both sides of a sample plank of cedar elm / Ulmus crassifolia


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of cedar elm / Ulmus crassifolia --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of cedar elm / Ulmus crassifolia --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Russian elm / Ulmus laevis --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of wormy September elm / Ulmus serotina --- HUGE enlargements are present


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of September elm / Ulmus serotina --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of smoothleaf elm / Ulmus minor --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. The vendor of this sample had it as Ulmus carpinifolia but that's just a synonym of Ulmus minor


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Wyche elm / Ulmus glabra --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Caucasian elm / Zelkova carpinifolia --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


first face and the end grain of a sample of elm / Ulmus spp. This part of a collection which is discussed here: COLLECTION C


the second face, before and after slicing off 1/8" showing how the patina from aging is only surface deep.


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above


two pieces of the same long spalted elm plank and a closeup of one section


small plank cut from the larger one above and sanded for the pic, and an end grain shot. NOTE: this image is TERRIBLE at showing the grain, but if you click on it, the enlargements are good.


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above


front (sanded) and back (rough) of a piece sent to me for identification --- red elm, I believe but since I'm not positive I'm putting it here on the misc page


gray elm veneer long sheet and closeup --- the yellow color in the distance view is not correct --- the closeup has the correct color





camperdown elm: I don't usually do pics of trees but I have no lumber on this and thought it was interesting. My son sent me this. The sign explains it all. Enlargements are present. There is a pic at the bottom of this page of a bowl made from the same wood as this tree.



water elm --- not actually an elm



both sides of a sample plank of water elm / Planera aquatica --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. This species is NOT actually an elm, but is reported to be very closely related to the genus Ulmus (it is also in the family Ulmaceae) although looking at the end grain closeup, I do NOT see that it looks very similar in tissue-level characteristics. Most significantly, it is semi ring porous, not ring porous as are the other elms.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of elm burl / Ulmus cf americana --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of elm burl / Ulmus cf americana --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above



The Wood Book pics


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
rock elm (Ulmus racemosa, also listed as cork elm, cliff elm, and white elm)


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
winged elm (Ulmus elata)

various elm pics from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views of each species

web pics:

NOTE: names used from here down are as found; some of them are possibly incorrect
elm names are VERY confusing and I've just done the best I could

just plain elm
American elm / white elm --- now has its own page on this site
red elm / slippery elm --- now has its own page on this site
cedar elm
Chinese elm
English elm --- now has its own page on this site
European elm
gray elm
Siberian elm --- now has its own page on this site
everything else ("misc")






listed as just elm and/or Ulmus spp. (which is the same as just "elm")


elm plank with wet and dry sections


slabs listed only as elm but I think some/all may be red elm


flat cut planks listed either as just elm or as elm / Ulmus spp. (which is the same as "just elm")


rift cut planks listed either as just elm or as elm / Ulmus spp. (which is the same as "just elm")


quartersawn planks listed either as just elm or as elm / Ulmus spp. (which is the same as "just elm")


plank and closeup, just listed as elm and with a demonstration of how the same camera and lighting can give widely different color results depending on how close the camera is to the wood (although there may have been some color manipulation on one of the pics)


crotch slabs just listed as elm


crotch turning block


elm plaques


both sides of a bowl blank just listed as "elm"


turning stock just listed as "elm" with no further designation


pen blanks made from an elm crotch


veneer just listed as elm


burls just listed as elm


burls just listed as elm (the middle shot is a closeup of the left pic) --- I'm dubious about the strong red color but cannot say with any authority that it can't be correct.


burl veneer just listed as elm


an almost unbelievable piece of spalted elm that is reportedly solid throughout even though the spalting is obviously quite advanced.


spalted elm turning stock


listed as just elm burl veneer but I believe it to be what is normally sold as carpathian burl veneer, which I show on a separate page


bowls just listed as elm


bowl listed as elm but I don't believe the orange is a natural wood color


vase listed as elm


elm burl bowl by Steve Earis


burl bowl just listed as elm






cedar elm



these pics were provided by a correspondent whose name, I am embarrassed to say, I have lost track of. The sender was outside the USA, I recall, and said this wood is "cedar elm" which is Ulmus crassifolia. The first two pics are a raw plank and end grain and the second two are closeups of a different plank that has a coat of polyurethane.

I also have some text, which I THINK are from the same correspondent, but I'm not sure. It indicates that cedar elm cuts well on the sawmill, dries poorly, and moves more than more common elms. It has very wide sapwood which is a pretty, light tan with some reddish tone and purplish streaks here and there. The heartwood looks a lot like red elm. Sapwood tears out pretty badly and the heart not as badly. Burns pretty easily, need sharp tools. Stringy as all get out, sands really well, and a scraper is a dream on it.






Chinese elm / Ulmus parvifolia


planks listed as Chinese elm


planks listed as Chinese elm / Ulmus parvifolia


Chinese elm burl turning stock


Chinese elm pen blanks


planks listed as southern chinese elm (left) and northern chinese elm (right)


two views of a Chinese elm vessel






European elm (this is usually just another name for English elm)


plank listed as European red elm


plank listed as European white elm


European elm veneer, flat cut


European elm veneer, quarterawn


European elm burl veneer and cluster burl veneer --- this is the type of elm normally sold as Carpatian elm burl


Eureopean elm burl veneer, all from the same vendor and listed as European elm / Ulmus carpinifolia (which is more appropriated called "smooth-leaf" or "small-leaf" European elm)






gray elm



plank listed as American gray elm


plank listed as gray elm


veneer listed as gray elm


gray elm burl veneer


gray elm bowl by Kathy Marshall






misc elm



planks listed as just "elm"


Japanese elm


Japanese elm veneer


pippy elm plank


two sections from a large plank listed as birdseye elm


two sections from a large plank listed as birdseye elm


Oregon elm burl


planks listed as "rock" elm


knife handle of spalted elm


wych elm bowl by Steve Earis


vase just listed as elm but I think it's probably red elm


goblet just listed as elm but I think it's probably red elm


three bowls by Bryan Nelson (NelsonWood). The last 2 are spalted


elm bowl


elm bowls turned and photographed by Tom Pleatman, whom I thank for these pics and other contributions to the site. Big enlargements are present.


Chinese elm bowls turned and photographed by Tom Pleatman, whom I thank for these pics and other contributions to the site. Big enlargements are present.


elm platter (probably red elm)


natural edge elm bowl (looks to be red elm)


two pics of an elm bowl that was turned thick then shaped into flutes and given legs --- this had to be a LOT of work


burl bowl


burl elm bowl by Steve Earis whom I thank for this pic and many other contributions to the site. Both levels of enlargement are present. Steve's photography is excellent.


bowl made from camperdown elm. HUGE enlargments are present. The finish is wax over danish oil.