The Caucasian elm is tolerant of Dutch elm disease, which killed over 25 million of our native English elms by the 1990s.
Caucasian elm leaves
- Scientific name: Zelkova carpinifolia
- Family: Ulmaceae
- Place of origin: Caucasus (eastern Europe including Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia) to Iran
- Conservation status: Near Threatened. All species of Zelkova are found in botanical gardens but few are known to be from wild sources.
- Date planted: 1905
- Height: 28.4 m
About Kew's Caucasian elm trees
Three specimens of this tree were originally planted at Kew in 1760, but outside the boundaries of the original arboretum. It is therefore unlikely they were bought by Princess Augusta for the original botanic garden. Little is known about the provenance of these trees. One now stands in the Herbarium paddock (not accessible to the public). This tree here is also a fine example and may well be one of the original three.
Take a closer look
- Caucasian elm leaves are rather rough to the touch, in contrast with its smooth grey bark. Its elegant pointed and oval-shaped leaves put on a fine show of colour in the autumn, with red and purple changing to red and yellow.
- This tree species is unusual in that its main trunk only grows to around 2 m in height before it splits into many tall, upright branches. Look out for this and you'll spot other specimens around Kew Palace, the Broadwalk and the Main Gate.
The fossil record shows these trees were common across Europe in the Pliocene, around 3 million years ago. But they are now confined to the Caucasus, an area incorporating parts of Russia, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Today this is a place of huge ecological significance. There are an estimated 6,400 plant species, 1,000 spider species, and many animals including leopards, bears, bison and golden eagles.
Cultivation and uses
The Caucasian elm enjoys moist soil and in its native habitat grows with oaks, so as a result tends to flourish under similar conditions in Britain. It does tend to grow slowly when young, but speeds up once established and it has an impressive lifespan, well in excess of 200 years if the specimens at Kew are anything to go by. Its timber is hard and durable but its short trunk and slim branches mean it cannot be used in useful lengths.
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