Ulmus rubra (Red Elm)

Plant Info
Also known as: Slippery Elm
Family:Ulmaceae (Elm)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; hardwood forest, floodplains, stream banks
Bloom season:March - May
Plant height:60 to 100 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: round

[photo of flower clusters] Dense, round clusters ¾ to 1 inch across from lateral buds on 1-year-old branches, each with 10 to 20 flowers and appearing before leaves emerge. Flowers have no petals, the green to reddish, cone-shaped calyx is hairy, only about 1/8 inch wide with 5 to 8 rounded, papery lobes. In the center is a 2-parted, pinkish-red, feathery style and 5 to 8 erect, white stamens that are at least twice as long as the calyx, the stamen tips initially reddish-purple turning purplish black. Flower stalks are hairy and less than 1/8 inch long.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and alternate, oval-elliptic to obovate (widest above the middle), 3½ to 7 inches long, 2 to 4 inches wide, abruptly tapered to a pointed tip, rounded and asymmetrical at the base, on a short, hairy stalk. Edges are double-toothed with roughly half the veins forking towards the tip (easily seen on the underside). The upper surface is medium to dark green with stiff, short hairs making it rough to the touch, the lower surface light green with similar stiff hairs though not as rough to the touch, and dense tufts of hairs in vein axils.

[photo of hairy twig with leaf and flower buds] Young twigs are hairy and initially green, turning gray to gray-brown. Buds are up to ¼ inch long, elliptic, hairy at the tip, with hairy, dark brown to blackish scales; flower buds are larger, round, densely covered in rusty-colored hairs.

[photo of mature trunk] Older branches are hairless with gray bark. Older bark has ridges and furrows that are somewhat shallow and generally running parallel. Trunks are up to 35 inches diameter at breast height.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a winged seed called a samara: flat, egg shaped to somewhat oblong, 1/3 to ¾ inch long, hairy only in the center directly over the seed, and the remnant styles often persistent at the tip.


Red elm is a large forest tree, restricted mostly to the southern 2/3s of Minnesota, typically in more upland sites. The inner bark is sticky and a bit slimy, hence the other common name, Slippery Elm. While never as common as American Elm (Ulmus americana), its populations were also devastated by Dutch Elm Disease and today it is somewhat scarce. It certainly does not have the regeneration of American Elm and, while very similar, it can be distinguished by its round, button-like clusters of nearly stalkless flowers, leaf veins that frequently fork towards their tips and short, soft hairs on the fruit surfaces but not around the edges. The flower clusters much resemble those of the non-native Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila), which are about half the size of Red Elm and have creamy yellowish styles, not red. These two species do hybridize, resulting in trees with intermediate characteristics.

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More photos

Photos courtesty Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Fillmore and Hennepin counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: JIM skarie - Minnetonka
on: 2018-07-10 23:35:44

I have a huge red elm in my front yard that is doing vert well. There are lots of young ones in my garden this year after a great year for red elm seeds.

Posted by: Anne Morse - Dakota (Winona County)
on: 2020-05-25 15:44:40

We have several huge red elms along the edge of our garden, so often have lots of seedlings. These trees survived Dutch Elm disease that took out all our American Elms. Thankful to have them, as they are beautiful.

Posted by: Luther Rotto - SE St. Cloud
on: 2021-09-08 18:08:20

My neighbor and I recently removed four of these that had all died -- by what process we do not know though they may have been simply shaded out by the larger mature trees around them. They were intermixed in our woodlots with a variety of other tree species (burr oak, red oak, ash, popple, hackberry, box elder, etc). They were only about 7 to 10 inches in diameter and about 20 to 25 ft. tall. The (dried out) inner bark remains is what ID-ed them pretty conclusively for us.

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