Winged elm

Ulmus alata
Family: Ulmaceae

Natural History
Leaves and "winged" branch of winged elm
Photo credit: Suzanne Cadwell (Flickr ID scadwell).
Used under a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License

Winged elm, also called corked elm or wahoo elm, can be distinguished from other elms by the woody, wing-like growths along the branchlets. They are often irregular and may appear as warty growths or knots on one or both sides of the twigs.

The wood is very flexible and springy but is also hard and resists splitting. It is categorized as a rock elm or hard elm and is used in flooring, boxes, crates, and furniture. The flexibility of the wood is particularly useful for rocking chairs or curved pieces. Winged elm is the wood of choice for hockey sticks, due to its resistance to splitting. The fibrous inner bark is used to make baling twine.

Winged elm is a common street and shade tree that is adaptable to a variety of soil and habitat conditions; however, it is susceptible to Dutch elm disease in the northern parts of its range.

This species provides a nutritious browse for white-tailed deer, especially in the spring, when the vegetation is tender and most easily digested. The seeds are eaten by rodents, small mammals, and numerous birds.

Winged elm is native to the southeastern corner of the United States, from southern Virginia west to the Ohio valley and Texas, and south into Florida.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Winged elms adapt well to both dry, gravely soils or moist, well-drained areas. They are commonly found in upland woods and flood plains.
Size/Form: Winged elm is a medium to large, deciduous tree that grows from 40' to 60' tall and forms a vase-like shape, with lateral branches and a rounded, open crown. The tree is characterized by corky, wing-like growths along many of the branches.
Bark: The bark is a brownish-gray color, often with a greenish cast. It has tight vertical plates, curvy furrows, and flat ridges.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternate, and oval to narrowly elliptical, from 1" to 3½" long. Leaf margins are doubly serrate. Leaves are dark green with a smooth upper surface and paler, hairy undersides. Leaves turn bright yellow in the fall.
Fruit: The fruit is a flat, hairy, reddish-orange samara, about 1/3" long, surrounded by a narrow wing. It appears in late winter (February and March) before the leaves emerge on the tree.

 

Images

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Leaves showing alternate arrangement and serrated margins. Close-up of "wings" on branchlets. Typical trunk with grooves and ridges. Fruits in late winter.
Photo credit: Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org Photo credit: Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org Photo credit: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org Photo credit: Franklin Bonner, USFS (ret.), Bugwood.org

 

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