Fall has come to central Texas.
One of the things I enjoy about fall is literally watching the wind blow the leaves off the trees and watching them drift to the ground or dance along the roads. Many people complain that we don’t get much fall color because so many of our trees turn brown instead of red or yellow.
Cedar elm can be a great fall color addition to your landscape because its leaves turn gold to orange red in the fall. It gets its name from the rough, cedar scale like texture of the leaves and is often found with Ashe Juniper. The Latin name, Ulmus crassifolia, means thick leaves, “crassi” for thick and “folia” for leaf. Its leaves are thicker than other elms.
The cedar elms at my house are young, short trees, but a mature cedar elm can grow up to 75 feet tall and 40-60 feet wide providing lovely shade in the summer and fall color. Soil type will determine how tall it gets. In limestone outcroppings, it may only grow 20 feet tall. The largest state champion cedar elm growing in rich bottomland soil near Dallas is 83 feet tall.
The tree shape is upright with a rounded crown. Leaves are alternate and simple, 1-2.5 inches long and .75 to 1 inch wide. They are oval and have single or double toothed edges. The leaves are distinctive because the back of the leaf has a very rough, sandpaper texture. The bark is rough, corky and furrowed into scaly ridges.
Flowers are inconspicuous with no petals appearing in late summer. One of the differences between cedar elm and winged elm is that cedar elm produces seeds in the fall and winged elm produces seeds in the spring. Winged elm also has larger leaves. The seed packets are flat and oval and are called samara. The seeds are the reddish bumps in the middle. Young cedar elms may have corked growths along the twigs but will lose them as the rougher bark forms over the branches.
As a landscape tree, it is very hardy tolerating both drought and wet soil. It prefers limestone growing with ash juniper in “cedar breaks.” It survives in difficult soil types with very little care. It needs full sun. It will grow 1.5 to 2.5 feet per year.
Cedar elm is the most common elm tree in Texas growing in east, south, and central Texas. It can be found near streams, in stands near rivers or on dry limestone hills.
Wild turkeys, quail, squirrels, deer and songbirds eat the seeds.
While they are usually problem-free, they can develop aphids, spider mites, sooty mold, cotton scale, elm leaf beetle and mistletoe. It is also susceptible to Dutch Elm disease, but it is more resistant than American elm. For those folks with allergies, it is wind pollinated and may be an issue.