Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: Winged Elm

I almost missed the first of my native canopy trees in bloom! That's what happens when your eyes are searching for spring ephemerals on the woodland floor.

Look what you will see when you look up... the prettiest red flowers that pop against the blue sky.
Flower Source: Joseph A Marcus
The wind-pollinated flowers have a reddish tinge and are borne on long pedicels in early spring before the leaves appear.

Samara Source: Joseph A Marcus
The fruit is a flat, hairy, reddish-orange samara, about 1/3” long, surrounded by a narrow wing. It usually disperses by the end of April. 

Source: MTSU Biology Dept

The leaves are small and oval to narrowly elliptical, from 1" to 3½" long with doubly serrated edges.
They are dark green with a smooth upper surface and paler, hairy undersides.

They turn bright yellow in the fall...Aren't they lovely.

 The corky wings are often irregular and may appear as warty growths or knots on one or both sides of the twigs.
Ulmus alata is the botanical name and those corky, ridged wings on young stems are a hallmark of this native tree. Winged elm is also called corked elm. It's a small- to medium-sized deciduous tree (in the best conditions they can be much taller) native to the southern and south-central woodlands of the United States. It has a vase-like shape, with lateral branches and a rounded, open crown.

Naturally occurs in southern and south central woodlands

Elms are host plants to over 200 butterfly and moth species (think important bird food) and squirrels and chipmunks eat the nutlets of the samaras. I've never seen this tree offered at a local IGC, but, it can be found at specialty tree farms and orchards (search online).

The tree is often grown in parking lot islands, medium strips, and along residential streets. Winged elm trees tolerate air pollution, poor drainage and compacted soil. Wow. Poor drainage and compacted soil~No wonder it's doing okay at Clay and Limestone.

The Particulars

Botanical name: Ulmus alata
Common Name: Winged Elm, Corked Elm
Type: Tree
Family: Ulmaceae
Native Range: Eastern and central North America
 Zone: 6 to 9
Height: 30.00 to 50.00 feet
Spread: 25.00 to 40.00 feet
Bloom Time: Late February, March to April
Bloom Description: Reddish green
Sun: Full/part sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Street Tree
Flower: Insignificant...lovely against the blue skies of spring
Tolerate: Air Pollution, compacted soil.
Pollination: Wind born
Wildlife value: Numerous insects feed on the foliage, wood, or plant juices of Winged Elm. Check out this insect  table to see listed critters.
Common uses: Boxes, baskets, furniture, hockey sticks, veneer, wood pulp, and papermaking.

Trees are so important to a critter friendly native plant garden and this tree provides shade for early blooming spring ephemerals and shade loving wildflowers, while being a host plant to numerous butterfly, moths, beetles and other critters.

My dear readers, don't forget to look up this spring or you might miss the magic that's happening in the canopy.


Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if your WW star of the month is blooming or not, after all it's winter for many of you. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants; how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I need to check mine to see if they are blooming yet. I don't want to miss them!

  2. looks like it misses my part of north georgia, darn, no wonder I haven't seen it in my woodland trips

  3. Wow, you have trees blooming already! Up here we are still buried under 4 feet of snow. I have never seen this tree before...looks like we are too far north. The American Elm is my favorite tree though. :)
    I tried to post a comment this morning but the site wouldn't let me. Trying again...

  4. I don't recall seeing this tree before around here. I will keep a look out for it.

  5. https://meinmitmach.blogspot.com/2019/02/die-kornblume.html is another post, but she wasn't able to get mr Linky to work!

    1. Mr Linky works for me, if I do all my info, then refresh.
      Many steps to convince him.

  6. Beautiful against a blue sky!
    Have a great weekend!

  7. It is too soon to see that blooming here, but I will keep and eye to the sky in the next month or so. I also enjoyed learning about it being a host for butterfly and moth, this I did not know. I'm new to your blog and look forward to reading more, and perhaps when winter moves on - sharing some of my wildflowers. Best, Kim

  8. We've got a Siberian Elm in the back. Drops branches like crazy. Oh, how I miss the old American Elms.

  9. What a great post. I just did a post about a botanical artist and I am now trying to take note of all the details. Your photos are beautiful. My neighbor has a witch hazel just about to bloom. Spring is coming.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson