Chinese Elm

Celtis sinensis

Family: Cannabaceae          Origin: China, Japan, North Korea, And Vietnam
A very beautiful tree, probably one of the most ornamental of all elm species, the Chinese Elm has found an almost too happy place in Australian landscapes as it’s become highly invasive. It spreads its seed easily in the wind and is self-pollinating. Since it’s so tough, it’s been used as a street tree and a tree for small areas where it fits well and is quite lovely, which has made it’s spread an even easier event for this enterprising elm. Relatively disease resistant and beautiful, the need to spread makes all of its other invasive characteristics as a valuable garden tree almost forgivable, but only almost. This tree has also been used in bonsai in Japan through its history.

Arboriculture

Growth Form

This tree is considered a small to medium tree, reaching up to 60 feet tall in large areas and having a slightly wider spread (up to 70 feet) in its open, round or oval shaped, and broad crown. Generally, Chinese Elms in close spaces and on streets don’t reach this height. The branches arch gracefully down on the ends giving this elm a slightly weepy look.

Trunk

The Chinese Elm has beautiful bark, which lends it to sometimes be called the “Lacebark Tree”. Chunks of grey bark slough off to reveal patches of light tan and red. The texture is irregular and unique. The trunk as a whole is thin and narrow and naked of branches. Sometimes some early pruning can encourage a single long trunk, but this is normally unnecessary.
chinese elm trunk bark

Flowering

In Autumn, this tree produces pretty inconspicuous white flowers that have both male and female parts, making this tree self-pollinating. Pollen does get carried by wind from tree to tree cross pollinating too.

Foliage

The medium green leaves of the Chinese Elm are thick and leathery and small, no more than 5 cm long and 3cm broad. This tree seems to enjoy holding into its foliage through most of the year, being one of the last deciduous trees to lose its foliage. In some areas, it’s even been reported to be evergreen although this is uncommon.
chinese elm foliage

Fruits

One of the things that make this tree so invasive is in its fruits. The seeds are called samaras, which are basically seeds with wings attached. The wind carries the ripe seeds with these wings, sometimes for miles. The seeds usually fall off of the tree and take off in large groups, so picking them up or stopping the seed from spreading is impossible.
chinese elm fruit

Management

Propagation

Easily started from seed, this tree is a simple customer for propagation.

Cultivation

This tree is a tough one. It can withstand many conditions, which has made it a go-to for urban planting. It’s been used along ocean coastlines, is happy in pots, and is happy almost anywhere in almost any weather. It does need good sun exposure to do its best, in well-draining soil. But feeding this sturdy tree or any special care is almost completely unnecessary. Controlling this tree by removing seedlings when they sprout out of place (pull or run them over with a mower), or using a systemic plant killer if you’re so inclined work well. We always recommend tree removal in Brisbane.
David climbing Chinese elm for removal in Brisbane

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Comments

  1. Claire LAW says

    The council are dummies if they plant this pest nuisance tree. There are so many choices, why chose a non native like this. Ruins roofs, lifts concrete, birds dont nest in them.

  2. Lynn Youngson says

    Hi David
    I have another question regarding a tree that sits just outside our front fence and was planted before we bought t his house in 1990.
    Having done some research, I’m hoping it’s an ulmus parvifloia and not a celtis sinensis. I’ve read your comment above to someone else.
    I’ve always kept this tree at a good height and it’s not an overly rapid growing tree. I get it lopped every couple of years just to keep it at house level.
    In the last month it has been dropping loads and loads of leaves and now new leaves are appearing and branches of lots of berries. It hasn’t had many berries for a few years or dropped leaves like this before.
    It doesn’t appear to have invasive roots that are visible and I’ve never found any shoots appearing from the berries.
    The bark is an attractive smooth mottled tan and reddish shades. There are some inoffensive prickles on some branches. I have trained it, in the past, to have a weeping appearance and is a good shade tree for the front courtyard area. Raking up the leaves and this year, the berries when they fall, can be a pain, but overall it’s not a troublesome tree.
    The leaves fit the classic description of a Chinese elm.
    I could send you a picture if I knew where to send it. Not sure I can attach anything to this comment.
    Hoping you can enlighten me.
    I took a sprig to a local nursery and they weren’t sure, but said it was probably a Chinese elm. (weed)
    As i said, after reading your comment, I’m hoping it’s from the ulmus parvifloria family.
    I won’t be getting rid of it what ever it is.
    Thank in advance,
    Lynn
    (Lynn Youngson)
    PS the tuckeroo is doing really well and has grown quite a bit already.

  3. Lauren says

    Hi David,
    I have been reading about the Chinese elm and I am worried as council are planting them in my street they are planting Ulmus pavifolias am going to have the same issues with the roots and the tree damaging driveways etc like the Celtis sinensis?

  4. Shirley Grubert-Gardiner says

    Hi David,

    I was reading your comment on the Chinese Elm.

    I have them towering above my 1889 home with a canopy reaching half way across my roof causing a lot of expensive damage with the constant leaf and seed debris from an avenue of trees grown 2 ft away along my home wall, The debris is blocking my skylight vents in the roof..

    Additionally, the root system is causing major cracking in my walls after plastering and painting my home. This occurs only on the wall adjacent to the trees.

    Is this why the trees are not recommended in a confined area? Please can you let me know your own experience as an Arborist.in a few words.

    I would be more than grateful to you for same and it would be a huge act of kindness and more than happy to phone you if you need to discuss anything.

    Thanks,
    Shirley

    • David Taylor says

      Hi Shirley. Yes, they are deciduous and the leaves can be an issue, and the roots are very invasive. They are also environmental weeds, grow far too large for a small area and propagate like the weeds they are. I can only recommend removal as it will cause more problems and cause further expense as time goes by. I’m always happy to take phone calls to discuss individual trees.

  5. jacky says

    I was considering this beautiful tree for a 300m laneway but after reading your blog I’m not so keen anymore. Could you recommend a native equivalent?

    • David Taylor says

      Hi Jacky. There are some Acacias with similiar leaves and beautiful trunks, and you will get beautiful wattles that bring native birds as well.

  6. Emma says

    The tree in the photo appears to be a Celtis sinensis not an Ulmus pavifolia – both of them use the same common name ”Chinese elm” but are scientifically very different trees. Celtis sinensis is a stage 3 pest in Brisbane where as Ulmus pavifolia isn’t. Celtsis sinensis doesn’t belong to the Ulmaceae family and isn’t a true elm, in fact it belongs in the Cannabaceae family, the same family as hemp. Hopefully Ulmus pavifolias aren’t being mistaken and removed unnecessarily as they are a beautiful tree and pose no threat, unlike the weedy Celtis sinensis.

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