Melbourne Elms

Melbourne’s Elms

Common name English Elm /Dutch Elm
Botanical name Ulmus procera/ Ulmus X. hollandica
Family Ulmaceae
Natural range Worldwide (northern hemisphere)
Mature height 20-30m
Form Broad spreading with age
Likes Living in Melbourne (for now)
Dislikes Dutch Elm disease
Where to plant Cool climates
Known for Asymmetrical leaf bases

Tracing Melbourne’s Elms: A Journey from Foreign Shores

Let’s uncover a fascinating fact: Melbourne is home to the largest concentration of mature Elm trees on the planet. This brings us to a curious question: how did these trees, native to Europe and North America, find their roots in an Australian city? Interestingly, the answer is intertwined with the curse of Dutch Elm Disease, which has obliterated mature Elm populations around the globe but has thankfully bypassed Australia.

English Elm vs Dutch Elm: The Battle for Melbourne’s Greenscape

Predominantly, Melbourne’s streets are adorned with two types of Elms – English Elms (Ulmus procera) and Dutch Elms (Ulmus X. hollandica). Both species, belonging to the Ulmaceae family, are celebrated for their stunning beauty, high amenity value, and durability within urban environments. These attractive features, combined with a historic inclination to mirror European landscapes, propelled the pre-eminence of Elms in Melbourne’s parks, gardens, and tree-lined streets.

Counting the Elms: Melbourne’s Leafy Inhabitants

More than 6,000 Elms embellish Melbourne’s streets, boulevards, and parks, with a further 11,000 situated within 10km of the CBD. Notably, the Elms that ornament Victoria Parade and Royal Parade, coupled with the tree avenues in Fitzroy Gardens, are recognised as significant by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).

The Plight of Elms Abroad: A Disease-ridden Tale

In the past, Elms constituted significant portions of natural forests, and were commonly planted as decorative trees along streets, gardens, and parks in Europe and North America. However, most mature Elms of European or North American origin have fallen victim to Dutch Elm Disease in recent decades, a fungus transmitted by bark beetles. This alarming trend has spurred the development of disease-resistant cultivars.

The Uncertain Future of Melbourne’s Elms: An Ominous Forecast?

The potential invasion of Dutch Elm Disease in Melbourne poses a continuous threat to our ageing Elm population, already grappling with climate change’s hotter, drier conditions. Given that Elms can live for centuries, their planting in Victoria seems dubious, considering our knowledge about increasing global temperatures. Tasmania, with its relatively cooler climate, might be a more appropriate haven for these trees.

Considering an Elm for Your Garden? Here are Some Options

If you’re thinking about adding an Elm to your garden, intriguing options include the weeping varieties: Ulmus glabra ‘Pendula’ (also known as the Wych Elm), or Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’. Alternatively, the Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia), which is better acclimated to warmer climates, could be your top choice.

Intriguing Facts about Elms
  1. Elm Trees Worldwide: Elm trees are not restricted to any particular region but are naturally found all over the northern hemisphere.
  2. Size Matters: As these trees mature, they can reach impressive heights, usually between 20 and 30 meters. Their broad-spreading form gives them a majestic appearance.
  3. Melbourne’s Elm Love: Elms seem to have a special liking for Melbourne. The city is currently the guardian of the world’s largest concentration of mature Elms.
  4. Disease Resilience: Despite the rampant spread of Dutch Elm Disease worldwide, Australia has remained unaffected, preserving the Elms in all their glory.
  5. Iconic Status: The rows of Elms adorning Victoria Parade, Royal Parade, and the avenues of trees in Fitzroy Gardens are acknowledged as significant by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).
  6. Longevity: Elms are known for their impressive lifespan. Some Elm trees have been recorded to live for several centuries.
  7. Threats Looming: The potential arrival of Dutch Elm Disease, coupled with the challenges of climate change, pose a significant threat to Melbourne’s ageing Elm population.
  8. Cultivar Choices: If you’re considering planting an Elm in your garden, several cultivars are available, including weeping varieties and the more heat-tolerant Chinese Elm.
  9. The Elm Leaf: One interesting fact about Elms is their asymmetrical leaf bases, a unique feature that distinguishes them from many other tree species.
More from our Tree Spotlight collection
Liked this tree? Jump to something else. There’s not many like it.
Back to the Tree Spotlight main page
Scroll to Top