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Ulmus pumila, the Siberian elm, is native to Central Asia, eastern Siberia, Mongolia, Xizang (Tibet), northern China, India (northern Kashmir) and Korea. It is also known as the Asiatic Elm, Dwarf Elm and (erroneously) Chinese Elm. It is the last tree species encountered in the semi-desert regions of central Asia. Two varieties are recognized: var pumila and var. arborea, the latter known as Turkestan elm. Ulmus pumila has been widely cultivated throughout Asia, the Americas and, to a lesser extent, southern Europe.
The Siberian Elm is usually a small to medium-sized, often bushy, tree growing to 10–20 metres (33–66 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 80 centimetres (31 in) d.b.h.  The leaves are deciduous in cold areas, but semi-evergreen in warmer climates, < 7 cm long and < 3 cm broad, with an oblique base and a coarsely serrated margin, changing from dark green to yellow in autumn. The perfect, apetalous wind-pollinated flowers emerge in early spring, before the leaves; unlike most elms, U. pumila is able to self-pollinate successfully. The wind-dispersed fruit develops in a flat, oval membranous wing (samara) 1–1.5 centimetres (0.39–0.59 in) long and notched at the outer end. The tree is short-lived in temperate climates, rarely reaching more than 60 years of age, but in its native environment may live to between 100 and 150 years  .
Typical 'long shoots' of pendulous forms of Ulmus pumila
Compact, semi-evergreen form of Ulmus pumila (photo Ronnie Nijboer)
Pests and diseases
The tree has considerable variability in resistance to Dutch elm disease. Moreover, like many other elms in North America, it is highly susceptible to damage from many insects and parasites, including the elm leaf beetle Xanthogaleruca luteola, powdery mildew, cankers, aphids, and leaf spot. In the Netherlands U. pumila was also found to be susceptible to coral spot fungus Nectria cinnabarina, while in Italy, the species was also found to have a slight to moderate susceptibility to Elm Yellows. However, U. pumila is the most resistant of all the elms to verticillium wilt.
Cultivation and uses
Introduced into Spain in the 16th century, and from the 1930s into Italy, U. pumila has naturally hybridized with the Field Elm U. minor (see below, Invasive species and spontaneous hybridization). In Italy it was widely used in viniculture, notably in the Po valley, to support the grape vines until the 1950s, when the demands of mechanization made it unsuitable.
U. pumila was introduced to North America by Frank Meyer  who, whilst in the employ of the USDA, made several collecting expeditions to the Far East. The tree was initially cultivated at the USDA Experimental Station at Mandan, North Dakota, where it flourished. It was consequently selected by the USDA for planting in shelter belts across the prairies in the aftermath of the Dustbowl disasters, where its rapid growth and tolerance for drought and cold initially made it a great success. However, the species later proved susceptible to numerous maladies. Attempts to find a more suitable cultivar were initiated in 1997 by the Plant Materials Center of the USDA, which established experimental plantations at Akron, Colorado and Sidney, Nebraska. The study, no. 201041K, will conclude in 2020.
The species has a high sunlight requirement and is not shade-tolerant; with adequate light it exhibits rapid growth. The tree is also fairly intolerant of wet ground conditions, growing better on well-drained soils. While it is very resistant to drought and severe cold, and able to grow on poor soils, its short period of dormancy, flowering early in spring followed by continuous growth until the first frosts of autumn, renders it vulnerable to frost damage.
As an ornamental U. pumila is a very poor tree, tending to be short-lived, with brittle wood and poor crown shape, but has nevertheless enjoyed some popularity owing to its rapid growth and provision of shade. The Siberian Elm has been described by Prof. Michael Dirr as "one of, if not the, world's worst trees...a poor ornamental that does not deserve to be planted anywhere". Yet in the USA during the 1950s, the tree was also widely promoted as a fast growing hedging substitute for Privet, and as a consequence is now commonly found in nearly all states. It is the improved variant of the Turkestan Elm U. pumila var. arborea that is lately seen more often in gardens and referred to as the 'wonder hedge' (Ulmus pumila celer), being both dense and fast-growing, taking as little as two years to reach fence height.
Invasiveness and spontaneous hybridization
In North America, Ulmus pumila has become an invasive species in much of the region from central Mexico  northward across the eastern and central United States to Ontario, Canada. It also hybridizes in the wild with the native U. rubra (slippery elm) in the central United States. In South America, the tree has spread across much of the Argentinian pampas In Europe it has spread widely in Spain, and hybridizes extensively there with the native U. minor, contributing to conservation concerns for the latter species. Research is ongoing into the extent of hybridisation with U. minor in Italy.
Ulmus pumila is often found in abundance along railroads and in abandoned lots and on disturbed ground. The gravel along railroad beds provides ideal conditions for its growth: well-drained, nutrient poor soil, and high light conditions; these beds provide corridors which facilitate its spread. Owing to its high sunlight requirements, it seldom invades mature forests, and is primarily a problem in cities and open areas, as well as along transportation corridors.
Valued for the high resistance of some clones to Dutch elm disease, over a dozen selections have been made to produce hardy ornamental cultivars, although several may no longer be in cultivation:
Roerich describes a specimen discovered on his travels through Mongolia:-
- We are in the deserts of Mongolia. It was hot and dusty yesterday. From faraway thunder was approaching. Some of our friends became tired from climbing the stony holy hills of Shiret Obo. While already returning to the camp, we noticed in the distance a huge elm tree – ‘karagatch’, - lonely, towering amidst the surrounding endless desert. The size of the tree, its somewhat familiar outlines attracted us into its shadow. Botanical considerations led us to believe that in the wide shade of the giant there might be some interesting herbs. Soon, all the co-workers gathered around the two mighty stems of the karagatch. The deep, deep shadow of the tree covered about 50 feet across. The powerful tree-stems were covered with fantastic burr growths. In the rich foliage, birds were singing and the beautiful branches were stretched out in all directions, as if wishing to give shelter to all pilgrims.
- North America
- Arnold Arboretum. Acc. nos. 17923, 638-79, 673-87.
- Denver Botanic Gardens. Acc. no. 900534.
- Dominium Arboretum, Ottawa, Canada. No acc. details available.
- Holden Arboretum. Acc. nos. 99-868, 72-218
- Longwood Gardens. Acc. no. 1962-0512.
- Morton Arboretum. Acc. nos. 542-49, 325-70, 53-74, 172-U.
- UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research. Acc. no. 027560-0284-1989.
- Arboretum of Warsaw University of Life Sciences , University of Life Sciences, Warsaw, Poland. 2 trees, no accession details available.
- Brighton & Hove City Council, UK, NCCPG Elm Collection .
- Dubrava Arboretum, Lithuania. No details available.
- Grange Farm Arboretum, Sutton St. James, Spalding, Lincolnshire, UK. Acc. no. 521.
- Hergest Croft Gardens, Kington, Herefordshire, UK. One tree, no accession details available.
- Hortus Botanicus Nationalis, Salaspils, Latvia. Acc. nos. 18162,3,4.
- Mote Park, Maidstone, UK. UK champion 22 m high, 66 cm d.b.h. in 1995.
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Wakehurst Place, UK. Acc. no. 2000-4449.
- Tallinn Botanic Garden, Estonia . No accession details available.
- Thorp Perrow Arboretum, Yorkshire, UK. British Champion tree, 19 m high, 70 cm d.b.h. in 2004 .
- Westonbirt Arboretum , Tetbury, Glos., UK. Two trees planted 1981, no acc.details.
- Alma Park, St Kilda, Victoria, Australia. One specimen, listed on the National Trust of Victoria's Significant Tree Register.
- Eastwoodhill Arboretum , Gisborne, New Zealand. 2 trees, details not known.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ulmus pumila.|
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