1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Elm

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ELM, the popular name for the trees and shrubs constituting the genus Ulmus, of the natural order Ulmaceae. The genus contains fifteen or sixteen species widely distributed throughout the north temperate zone, with the exception of western North America, and extending southwards as far as Mexico in the New and the Sikkim Himalayas in the Old World.

The common elm, U. campestris, a doubtful native of England, is found throughout a great part of Europe, in North Africa and in Asia Minor, whence it ranges as far east as north Asia and Japan. It grows in woods and hedge-rows, especially in the southern portion of Britain, and on almost all soils, but thrives best on a rich loam, in open, low-lying, moderately moist situations, attaining a height of 60 to 100, and in some few cases as much as 130 or 150 ft. The branches are numerous and spreading, and often pendulous at the extremities; the bark is rugged; the leaves are alternate, ovate, rough, doubly serrate, and, as in other species of Ulmus, unequal at the base. The flowers are small, hermaphrodite, numerous, in purplish-brown tufts, and each with a fringed basal bract; the bell-shaped calyx is often four-toothed and surrounds four free stamens; the pistil bears two spreading hairy styles. They appear before the leaves in March and April. The seed-vessels are green, membranous, one-seeded and deeply cleft. Unlike the wych elm, the common elm rarely perfects its seed in England, where it is propagated by means of root suckers from old trees, or preferably by layers from stools. In the first ten years of its growth it ordinarily reaches a height of 25 to 30 ft. The wood, at first brownish white, becomes, with growth, of a brown colour having a greenish shade. It is close-grained, free from knots, without apparent medullary rays, and is hard and tough, but will not take a polish. All parts of the trunk, including the sapwood, are available in carpentry. By drying, the wood loses over 60% of its weight, and has then a specific gravity of 0.588. It has considerable transverse strength, does not crack when once seasoned, and is remarkably durable under water, or if kept quite dry; though it decays rapidly on exposure to the weather, which in ten to eighteen months causes the bark to fall off, and gives to the wood a yellowish colour — a sign of deterioration in quality. To prevent shrinking and warping it may be preserved in water or mud, but it is best worked up soon after felling. Analyses of the ash of the wood have given a percentage of 47.8% of lime, 21.9% of potash, and 13.7% of soda. In summer, elm trees often exude an alkaline gummy substance, which by the action of the air becomes the brown insoluble body termed ulmin. Elm wood is used for keels and bilge-planks, the blocks and dead-eyes of rigging, and ships' pumps, for coffins, wheels, furniture, carved and turned articles, and for general carpenters' work; and previous to the common employment of cast iron was much in request for waterpipes. The inner bark of the elm is made into bast mats and ropes. It contains mucilage, with a little tannic acid, and was formerly much employed for the preparation of an antiscorbutic decoction, now obsolete. The bark of Ulmus fulva, the slippery or red elm of the United States and Canada, serves the North American Indians for the same purpose, and also as a vulnerary. The leaves as well as the young shoots of elms have been found a suitable food for live stock. For ornamental purposes elm trees are frequently planted, and in avenues, as at the park of Stratfieldsaye, in Hampshire, are highly effective. They were first used in France for the adornment of public walks in the reign of Francis I. In Italy, as in ancient times, it is still customary to train the vine upon the elm — a practice to which frequent allusion has been made by the poets. The cork-barked elm, U. campestris, var. suberosa, is distinguished chiefly by the thick deeply fissured bark with which its branches are covered. There are numerous cultivated forms differing in size and shape of leaf, and manner of growth.

The Scotch or wych elm, U. montana, is indigenous to Britain and is the common elm of the northern portion of the island; it usually attains a height of about 50 ft., but among tall-growing trees may reach 120 ft. It has drooping branches and a smoother and thinner bark, larger and more tapering leaves, and a far less deeply notched seed-vessel than U. campestris. The wood, though more porous than in that species, is a tough and hard material when properly seasoned, and, being very flexible when steamed, is well adapted for boat-building. Branches of the wych elm were formerly manufactured into bows, and if forked were employed as divining-rods. The weeping elm, the most ornamental member of the genus, is a variety of this species. The Dutch or sand elm is a tree very similar to the wych elm, but produces inferior timber. The American or white elm, U. americana, is a hardy and very handsome species, of which the old tree on Boston (Mass.) Common was a representative. This tree is supposed to have been in existence before the settlement of Boston, and at the time of its destruction by the storm of the 15th of February 1876 measured 22 ft. in circumference.