American Elms in Australia

November 4, 2014

Hello everyone,

Long time lurker, first time poster.

Background: I live just outside of Sydney. After spending about 3 or so years in Winnipeg, Canada, I fell in love with the American elm. The volume of the elm canopy in Winnipeg is so vast, I didn't even realise that Dutch Elm Disease was a thing until recently. When I found out about it I got frightened and I promised that I would plant as many as I could around here. We don't have DED here ... yet. Hopefully Australia's strict quarantine controls will keep it that way.

Question 1: Why aren't my cuttings growing? I am following instructions from a Master's thesis I found on the internet (see link below). I obtained softwood cuttings in Spring. From what I understand, the *best* time to get them is in early Summer. I suppose I could have taken the cuttings a little bit too early? Is there any wisdom that you folks could share regarding growing American elms from cuttings? I used a brand new razor blade to cut the softwood right below a node, I am keeping them fairly moist, they are kept out of the sun and they are being kept fairly still.

Question 2: Is it necessary to train American elms to get a nice straight trunk. The most mature American elms we have in this country (there aren't many of them!) are in Canberra. They look like this:


The trunks have forked so early on those trees! I don't really want that shape. I would prefer the shape that I became used to in Winnipeg. Those trees look like this:


How do I get that shape? Is it a cultivar thing? Or is a matter of a lack of training? As in, if I take cuttings from those elms in Canberra (and if they end up forming roots) are those trees more or less doomed to end up forking early as well?

I think that there are one or two nurseries in this country that sell the American elm, from what I've gathered. I believe one of them is selling the Princeton cultivar. If my cuttings won't root, or if they're doomed to fork early, I might just buy a few trees from a supplier, although that will probably be quite an expensive option for a retailer customer like myself who lives nowhere near those nurseries.


(Masters thesis link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=tWR46Q8D8uoC&pg=PR6&lpg=PR6&dq=%22american+elm%22+from+cuttings+how+to&source=bl&ots=7XHuhlp4og&sig=HwsV7QWr1rbSfsnpamSM8BwZGAQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=CdVFVIK5GMTcmgXA-oDYDw&ved=0CC0Q6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=%22american%20elm%22%20from%20cuttings%20how%20to&f=true)

Comments (27)

  • corkball

    Glad to hear you like our trees! :)

    Couple of things:

    1) propagation: I feel your pain. I tried cloning my Valley Forge for several years and finally gave up. Each year, they would rot before sprouting, and I never got any to germinate. I followed directions here: http://www.elmpost.org/
    However, you will find that elms will mature fairly quickly and produce seeds prolifically, and the seeds are EASY to sprout.

    2) forking is fairly normal - you will need to train. Some varieties like Valley Forge are more wild growing than others, but American elms naturally take on that vase shape - in fact the vase shape is one of the elm's big pluses! You get lots of shade and no low branches in your face! The street trees you posted had probably been trimmed for decades into that shape (you can see fairly recent trim points all over them). Also, trees planted closer together will grow straighter as they have less room to spread out.

  • Jimmy_C

    I love the vase shape - I was just under the impression that the tree was supposed to grow upwards a little more before taking on the vase shape.

    As for the cuttings, that's bad news. It's November 5 so we're about 25 days away from the start of summer. I have no idea when American elms make seeds. But I'm assuming it's probably in Spring. I'm probably too late for seeds, yeah? :(

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  • corkball

    seeds ripen around end of May/beginning of June here - say in June. If seasons are reversed there, your season should be getting under way shortly. Self pollination is not common, but does happen. Multiple trees will help your seed source.

  • jujujojo_gw

    American Elm is an invasive species. It is not suitable for the nature of Australia ...

  • Smivies (Ontario - 5b)

    "American Elm is an invasive species. It is not suitable for the nature of Australia"

    Elms have been planted in Australia for 150 years and they've only managed to naturalize in a few locales. Bottom line, where it's wet enough, it's too tropical and where it's temperate enough, the summers are too dry.

  • Jimmy_C

    Are you guys sure about that?

    I don't think it's classified as an invasive species here - the local government has it listed as one of their suggested species for new plantings. If it is invasive then I don't think that it's a species of particular concern.

    Melbourne is temperate and not particularly wet, and the city is plastered in elms. Canberra is dry, but much cooler, and there are elms (including American elms) to be found across that city as well. Bathurst is much the same way. As is Armidale. The place where I'm located, just outside of Sydney, has a climate that's probably halfway between the climates of Melbourne and Canberra. If the elms have only naturalised in a few locations, I wonder if maybe that's because - being an introduced species - they've only grown where people have bothered to plant them. And given that 99% of the country is desert where nobody lives, I wonder if the fact that they've only been naturalised in a few locations has more to do with the fact that people only live in a few locations as well?

    In any case, I don't think the climate where I live will be too much of a problem for a few elm trees. There's an avenue two streets over that's lined with golden elms, and there are a couple of young mystery elms along the banks of a river just down the street (they don't look American to me).

    The only problem I can think of is if the American elm has a much higher water requirement than the English elms in Melbourne or the Golden elms up the street. Any ideas?

  • jujujojo_gw

    â¢Posted by Jimmy_C none (My Page) on Tue, Nov 4, 14 at 23:02

    If you really like the idea of American Elms, I would suggest Red elm. The Red elms are also native American and they have larger leaves than the American Elm. A mature American Elm only has branches in top 1/2 to 1/3 of the tree. The Red Elms have low branches good for a close examination. I find Red Elms more people friendly :-)


    This post was edited by jujujojo on Tue, Nov 4, 14 at 23:32

  • Huggorm

    I bought some american elm seeds from sheffields and the germination rate was very high. No stratification was necessary, they sprouted after just a few days. That is probably much easier than cuttings.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Sheffilds

  • Jimmy_C

    I've thought about ordering seeds off the internet, but that would mean contending with Australia's quarantine department.

    I looked the tree up on their database and they require all American elm wood, seed and so forth to be fumigated with methyl bromide and phosphine upon entry to the country. I'm fairly sure those services aren't free, and from what I can work out from their utterly confusing website, their services are actually kinda expensive.

    So unless any other Australians here are familiar with the expenses involved with buying seeds online, it looks like that the seed collecting will have to be done by me personally. :(

  • jujujojo_gw

    â¢Posted by Jimmy_C none (My Page) on Wed, Nov 5, 14 at 4:24

    Jimmy, Australia has extremely strict importing rules because the continent hosts a lot of unique and primitive species that are sheltered from Eurasian and North America continents. Therefore, the rules for importing seeds are the same, no matter you bring them into Australia by mail or by person. Unless you hide the seeds somewhere and do a smuggling, but that would be illegal and if found, the penalty is many years in prison, unfortunately.

  • Embothrium

    Look for information about any American elms that may already be in Australia, that you can propagate from. If there are suitable conditions somewhere there a botanical garden or other place featuring tree plantings may have one. If you go to an area with climate and soils that are acceptable to the tree you may spot one just about anywhere there is room for a tree.

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)

    Besides if he finds propagation material in his own town, he knows they are clones that can cope with the climate. It's relatively easy to imagine an elm seed collected from the northern part of its North American range growing poorly in Sydney because of a lack of winter chilling.

    It's amusing to me anyone in greater NSW would pay them any heed when there are probably vase shaped subtropical figs that can be grown there. (not always the nicest plants to have in gardens, perhaps) Or many other zn 10 plants of which I'm not particularly aware or knowledgable. Aren't some of the native Acacias vase shaped?

    They assume the vase shape naturally and don't require special pruning. My Ulmus parvifolia 'Allee' is doing the same.

  • jujujojo_gw

    â¢Posted by bboy USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA (My Page) on Wed, Nov 5, 14 at 10:21

    â¢Posted by davidrt28 7 (My Page) on Wed, Nov 5, 14 at 13:45

    Do we sound awfully harsh on the American Elm trees?

  • Jimmy_C

    David, the unique shape of the tree and its deciduous nature aren't really replaceable imo. There are a lot of Chinese elms around Sydney but they don't have the right shape. The figs that I know of are massive on the horizontal axis, and they don't lose their leaves. Acacia trees are ugly for the 11 months of the year while they're not in bloom, and most of them look half dead most of the time. Nope, it's gotta be an American elm.

    So I'll go back down to Canberra and take some more cuttings I suppose. With regards to seeds: presumably the trees lining one street are all clones of the one tree, right? Does that mean that those seeds will have been "self-pollinated" so to speak, or will they be good?

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)

    No problem, Jimmy, I'm trying to remember that aphorism pertaining to what other people find desirable due to its rarity in a certain place...but can't remember. Not grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but similar. If only there were an aphorism thesaurus.

    I'm obviously not sure of the overall gardening culture in AU...if you ask around in the right circles, you might find someone willing to try to propagate them for you. It's spring there, so the right time will be coming up soon. For example I wanted some grafts of Larix onto Pseudotsuga sinensis. David Parks of Camellia Forest was willing to do this for me in return for sharing some scions. Alas his grafts didn't take, but he did a far better job than I would have. I don't know if there's a Forestfarm/Crug Farm/Cistus/Camellia Forest of Australia...but there could be. Approach some wholesale nurseries, maybe in the Blue Mountains there is one that focuses on Northern Hemisphere plants. Since the cultivars are propagated by cuttings "up" here, should be possible with the right misting equipment {{gwi:483394}}.

    This post was edited by davidrt28 on Wed, Nov 5, 14 at 18:10

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)

    Like this one:
    (specialists in "cold climate plants"!)

    Here is a link that might be useful: http://www.webersnursery.com.au/

  • Embothrium

    > If only there were an aphorism thesaurus. Sounds like some kind of cartoon dinosaur.

  • bengz6westmd

    I have to agree w/Jimmy_C, you just can't replicate that Amer elm "look". Perhaps get close, but not really reproduce it.

    Persist, Jimmy_C w/your search in Australia and eventually you should come up w/some good seedlings or saplings.

    The forking down low is perhaps the main feature. The wood has interlocking grains and not likely to split there like many other species would.

  • Embothrium

    Actually, there are lots of kinds tropical trees seen in plantings there that produce spectacular broad, elevated crowns supported by vase-like main branching. If it is still standing a monkey-pod near Honolulu has an average crown spread in excess of 300 ft. The parasol acacias of the African savannah are the basis for the human attraction to trees that look like umbrellas, and the countless numbers of planted specimens with different grown habits that are butchered in an attempt to turn them into something more like a parasol acacia.

  • Jimmy_C

    Yes but tropical trees rarely change colour in the autumn, and they rarely make elm shaped leaves. A couple of people have mentioned acacias. No way. Like I said, they're ugly and dead and dry looking for 11/12 months of the year.

    I was quite particular about the American elm for a couple of reasons. First, because I have a sentimental attachment to the tree. Second, because nothing really compares. If an alternative tree has the right habit, it'll have the wrong leaves. If a different tree has the right colour leaves, it'll have a completely different growth habit. The tree, as far as I can tell, is in a class of its own. The only thing that comes close, imo, is the English elm. But I don't want an English elm, I want an American elm damnit! lol

    I have exams on at the moment. When they finish I'm gonna go for a drive to Canberra to get some cuttings and to hunt for seeds. If they take I'll update you all. If not, I think I might just buy one from these folks. I reckon that'll be expensive though :\


  • jujujojo_gw

    â¢Posted by Jimmy_C none (My Page) on Fri, Nov 7, 14 at 2:42

    I love dombeya tree, for an example.

  • HU-104914250

    Jimmy. I have just returned form New York where i fell in love with the American Elms in Tompkins Square Park. I agree with you the shape is unique and remarkable.

    Did you have any luck with your cuttings or finding a nursery here selling American Elms?



  • davidrt28 (zone 7)

    Doubt that poster is still around!

    Revisiting this thread after having been to SE AU and NZ in the intervening years, I wonder if American Elms are common in gardens in the 'temperate highlands' parts, like the Blue Mountains or Southern Highlands of NSW, or the Dandenongs of Victoria. The Southern Highlands, in particular, would have large country gardens or farms designed to look European (or dare I say, American?) with many Northern Hemisphere trees. Pines, Thujas, deciduous hardwoods etc. Even though the climate is no worse than 9b and you could still have Phoenix palms and Callistemons if you wanted. So in those areas, northern hemisphere trees are not uncommon - but since they were not what I was looking for and are easily overshadowed (to my eyes) by the more exotic zn 9 vegetation, I could well have walked past a fine specimen of one and not have noticed it! There is a reference book of what is planted in most of the public gardens in Australia, that covered a lot of northern hemisphere trees, but I forget the name of it.

  • HU-104914250

    There are many English elms. The last bastion worldwide free from dutch elm disease. But not many American elms which I consider having a superior aesthetic.

  • Jimmy_C

    Hey Ned, see my post on the other thread that you replied to. In short, I took my cuttings from a grove in Canberra (on a street called Grant Crescent) and I bought a tree from this supplier.


    Davidrt28 - I'm sure there are a number of american elms planted elsewhere in this part of the world but unfortunately they're not well documented outside of the Canberra area :( English elms are fairly common however.

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)

    Hey Jimmy, glad you are still around. Thanks for the info.

  • HU-104914250

    Thank you Jimmy. Really appreciate the tips. I'll let you now how i go.

    Well done on taking some cuttings.

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