Huntingdon elm, also known as (Ulmus x hollandica 'vegeta') is a hybrid cultivated from wych and smooth leaved elm. |
Because the tree is a hybrid it isn’t considered a native species and doesn’t have a natural range. It was grown in Huntingdon nursery during the 18th century. It has a tolerance to Dutch elm disease and remains a feature in parks and other places.
What does Huntingdon elm look like?
A mature tree will grow to about 30m tall and has grey bark with rigged, crossing, vertical fissures. The dark grey twigs are long and hairy.
The leaves have serrated edges and are shiny green on the surface with loads of tiny hairs on the underside, on the joints. The base of the leaf is uneven and the tip goes to a sudden point.
Elm trees are hermaphrodite, which means the reproductive parts are contained in the same flower (both male and female). The flowers grow in clusters of around 10 to 20 and are purple to red in colour. Pollination occurs by wind to turn them into smallish fruits with wings, also known as samaras. They then get distributed widely by wind.
Interesting fact: water mains were once made from elm timber. This was before metal became commercially available. Some of these towns include Southampton, Bristol and Hull.
Value to wildlife:
The foliage is plant food for caterpillars of numerous moths such as the light emerald, peppered and white spotted pinion moths. Larvae of the white hairstreak butterfly eat the leaves of the elm tree, but their species in now in decline due to a pathogen called Dutch elm disease. The seeds are also eaten by lots of species of birds and sometimes small mammals.
Mythology and symbolism:
Historically elm trees were associated with death and melancholy, probably because the branches would fall off the tree with no warning. The wood is also used to build coffins and is a preferred choice over other woods.
How we use Huntingdon elm:
Elm timber has a tight and twisted grain, which makes it tough and robust. It is also water resistant and made it perfect for building ships. It was used for crafting and to make boats, boat parts, water pipes, wheels and hubs, floorboards, furniture and coffins. Threats:
Elm trees are highly vulnerable to Dutch elm disease, a fungal pathogen that wiped out large numbers of elm trees since it arrived back in the 1960s. However the Huntingdon elm seems to be growing tolerant of it.
Other pests that are affecting the tree include galls from aphids, which come from fruit trees.
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