Family: Cannabaceae Origin: China, Japan, North Korea, And Vietnam
The Chinese Elm has found a far too happy place in Australian landscapes as it’s become highly invasive. It spreads its seed easily in the wind and is self-pollinating. It is listed as an invasive species both by Brisbane City Council and the Qld Government along with other local government authorities.
It is typically found in backyards that have suffered from a lack of maintenance or hiding behind garden sheds and carports. It’s rare to see one on its own, they tend to spread out over suburban blocks.
This tree grows to a canopy diameter of 25m and 20m high. It can easily have a girth of over one metre at breast height. Generally, Chinese elms in backyards don’t reach these dimensions as property owners have to get them removed as juveniles. When they do reach maturity they spread their seed over entire suburban blocks.
The Chinese Elm has a variable growth form, often forming codominant leaders with inclusions of bark between them. While is a weakness, Chinese elms aren’t known for branch failures. 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 as a weed they don’t usually receive that level of cultivation.
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 also.
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 is one of the last deciduous trees to lose its foliage in Brisbane. In some areas, it’s even been reported to be evergreen although this is uncommon.
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.
Easily started from seed without any special treatment.
This tree is a tough one. It can withstand many conditions, which has made one of the most invasive trees around Brisbane. 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 of this species in Brisbane.