Chinese Elm

Celtis sinensis

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.


Growth Form

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.
chinese elm trunk bark


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.
chinese elm foliage


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



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.

50 thoughts on “Chinese Elm”

  1. How long does it take for the roots to after a Chinese Elm is felled? We are taking out two huge specimens but the neighbour fears for the concrete base of his shed only a meter from the trees. Will it be a problem for him and when?

  2. Hi David.
    I live in SA and my neighbour has a Chinese Elm next to my large veggie garden.
    It gave me grief for many years with its voracious, invasive roots and suffocating debris. We were at loggerheads about it for years until an arborist suggested we dig a 1 metre deep barrier and line it with a special black plastic root guard material. It has worked for aprox 3 years.
    Knowing the invasive nature of this tree, its horticultrally similar to living next to Russia. I would feel a lot better if it was removed.

  3. Hi.
    I have a 12m Chinese Elm at the back of my West End property growing on a commercial property right on our boundary. It’s just getting too big and I want to have it removed. Is there anyone who can tell me if there is any onus on the commercial property to get rid of this ‘weed’ as the Brisbane City Council call it? Or if they don’t want to do anything about the tree, can I just poison it myself?
    Thanks for any feedback in advance.

  4. See there is a way to kill Chinese Elem found in Gatton , it was on Landline a few weeks ago , have you seen it & could you supply info please as it has start to take over my place here in Brisbane South side ,

  5. Can I buy a celtis from a nursery I’m in south east Queensland I have 2 Chinese elms but wanted to buy a celtis if possible

  6. Celtis trees were NEVER called Chinese Elm until quite recently. The Chinese Elm is a completely different tree from a different genus altogether. Why the confusion?
    Celtis is Celtis is Celtis, always was and always will be.

  7. The trees pictured appear to be “chinese hackberry” ‘Celtis sinensis’ not chinese elms ‘Ulmus parvifolia’. Hackberrys’ behave in the for-mentoined description.

  8. Hi David,
    My neighbour has these chinese elms growing right on my fence line and it has pushed my fence down. The neighbour has refused for me to cut them down. I am unable to repair my fence as the Chinese elms ( 4 trees) from the neighbours property is right on the fence foundation. Can the Ipswich City Council assist as my investment property is in Ipswich.

    1. Oh honey,

      Good luck dealing with a person from Ipswich with this request. You bought an investment property in a working class community, struggling with an affordable housing shortage and gentrification. If there was any chance they would have been reasonable about this, if wouldn’t be to you..

      They may do it for your renters though, especially if they have kids or a doggo.

      If you’re an out of towner flipping a property, you’ve potentially been catagorised as morally and ethically reprehensible.

  9. Rochelle Leorke

    Hi. We have young Chinese elm trees and I would like to prune and keep these at a manageable size. I don’t want them to grow too big. Is it possible to keep them at a manageable size. They are also growing outward and was wondering how to prune them as well. I live in the Southwest Victoria. When is the best time to prune
    Thanks Rochelle

  10. Hi David,

    I have two huge trees out the back (20-30 metres, and over a meter round), that I’ve been told are Elms. Very healthy, provide great shade and then sun in Winter thanks to losing their leaves. I also have two smaller trees in the front yard Ive been told are elms as well by a tree arborist , but these are scrub like, lose their leaves in winter but are made up of many smaller branches, itchy, serrated leaves and seem to constantly be covered in white powder. They look like completely different trees, I dont understand how they are the same tree. It seems like only a certain species of the elm has been listed as a weed on BCC. Just wandering which is which if you know?

  11. Hi David – My neighbor has a large Chinese elm next to the fence. Can the Brisbane City Council order him to remove it? Also there is a Moreton Bay Fig growing in the stump of an old tree next to the fence and about two metres from the pool in our yard. Can the Brisbane City Council help with the neighbor removing this tree also?

    1. Can you buy celtis plants for bonsai not the wild I’m in south-east Queensland got 2 Chinese elms but wanted a celtis

  12. Our neighbour has a medium to large chilese elm, & doesn’t want to cut it down but said we could if we wanted. I would like to poison it & have tried but with no success. Which poison is going to give me success, please ? Christine

  13. Hi, are these noxious/ toxic? I saw it listed as a noxious wee. We’ve cut one down and poisoned the stump, and now a year later trying to get the roots out which is basically requiring us to mulch them (blunted out the chainsaw). We’ve got small children and dogs, so just trying to find out if there’s any risk. Thanks, Lisa

  14. Hi, have a 25m to 30m Chinese Elm in the back of the neighbors yard – our back deck looks directly at it – it’s a rental now and I have asked the real estate that can I chop it down but the owner refused for me to cut it down – there are Chinese Elms growing everywhere around it including our yard which I cut off and poison – is there a Council (BCC) regulation that you must cut these trees down???

  15. Hi David,
    I’m having two Chinese elms removed on Saturday at our new house. I’m looking for alternatives to plant. On my list are frangipani and crepe Myrtle. The garden bed is 2 m from the house have you any other suggestions

    1. Hi there, we’re also having a 15m chinese elm removed next week. Just wondering what large tree you went with to replace them? We have a large backyard surrounded by townhouses on all sides and need some privacy once this new tree grows up. Thanks

  16. Why are you labeling this Chinese hackberry plant as an Elm its not even in the same family.
    The Chinese elm they are using is Ulmus parviolia which is a gorgeous tree

  17. Hi David,I have a few of these horrible trees on my property!! What is the best poisen to use to kill them so I can get rid of them please🙏

  18. We are attempting to find out how fast a Celtis Sinensis tree can grow. in the Brisbane area. We have seen one arborist claim that such trees can grow 5m in 2 years. Is this your experience? What would you say was the range of growth rates for such trees?
    The tree that we have trouble with is neighbour’s tree that has been grown in ideal conditions in that it:
    was watered by an automatic sprinkler system;
    was inadvertently also watered with grey water by us (watering our backyard);
    had its competitive trees removed whilst it was a sapling;
    was exposed to the western sun.

  19. Hi David,
    I’m the chairperson and owner of a unit in a complex in Sherwood, Brisbane.
    We have a 15m high chinese elm tree in the backyard which is some 7-8 from the rear of the building. I was wondering how invasive the root system is and whether i need to remove it?
    Cheers Derek

    1. Hi Derek. Chinese elm roots are invasive and at that distance, they certainly have the potential to cause damage. The main problem is subsidence during dry periods such as we are having now, as roots shrink back.

  20. Hello David
    I live in the scenic rim shire on a 3rd generational farm with numerous Sth East Asian Celitis sinensis spread across the property now.
    I am slowly replacing them with natives as I poison/chop/dig them out. The problem I have and this partly thanks to SEQ water and their freshly graduated hydrologist, I have steep to steepish creek bank now getting close to machinary sheds and is being held almost cometley by 2000 or so small Asian Celtis Elm.
    They range from 1 inch to 20 meters in height. I have had tree specialist and “the experts” out to give advice but nothing that satisfied my 48 years of observation of land erosion from over grazing through to just idiotic acts of soil mismanagement.
    My first question is, what stops native trees from making a good root system where there is a mass amount of young Elm trees? I have chopped them back down to 2 ft high to keep them alive as to keep my creek bank stable. I am thinking along the lines of that their root sytem is faster growing then the natives I have tried planting ( even with a bigger than average planting hole)
    Once again from years of observation I have noticed that not much else grows under them. Especially when they start getting from 3m to 30m apart from sparsely types of europen grasses. Its a very similar problem where I have a property I reside in part-time in Northern NSW with Champhor Laurels that are enmasse.
    Any suggestions would be greatly apprectted as I wanting that to become as stable as possible whilst making the Asian Elm from that area totally absent.

    1. Hi Robert,

      The answer to your dilemma might be to poison the stumps. Some trees exude chemicals toxic to other species in a process known as allelopathy. That’s why, as you have observed, nothing grows underneath them. If you kill the stumps the natives should get a toe-hold.

      Good on you for removing the Chinese elms, they’re a blight on the environment.

  21. I am concerned about the root system of this tree, we have one in the backyard but dont want it to get into the pipes etc. how far do these roots spread? Trying to determine if the tree is further enough away from the house. Hope you can help

    1. Hi Jenny. The roots will extend far beyond the canopy. They are robust and are likely to cause damage if your house is within twice the distance of the canopy to the trunk if you have re-active clay soil.

  22. 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.

    1. Hi Claire. Fortunately, no councils I know of are now planting Chinese elms. I’ve updated the article to reflect that. Thanks for commenting.

  23. 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 Youngson)
    PS the tuckeroo is doing really well and has grown quite a bit already.

    1. Hi Lynn. Please send me a photo of the bark and another of the leaves to me at 0488 827 267. I’ll let you know the species. Thanks, David.

  24. 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?

    1. Hi Thelma. Hopefully, they will. The only reason they haven’t removed all their Celtis sinensis, Chinese elms is because of budget constraints. I’ve had the privilege of studying arboriculture with several council arborists and I know they’d love to improve the environment by removing them if they could.

  25. Shirley Grubert-Gardiner

    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 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.


    1. 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.

  26. 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?

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

      1. Hi..could you recommend what sort of acacias please.

        I have a Chinese elm in the backyard and love it! I think it’s a beautiful tree. Sorry! 😜

    2. In Brisbane Chinese Elms are categorise as category 3 restricted material. It is illegal to transport or gift without special permit.

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