Slippery Elm – Ulmus rubra

Slippery Elm - Ulmus rubra, photos by Steven Foster

Overall At-Risk Score: 34

Latin Name:

Ulmus rubra

Synonym: Ulmus fulva

Common Name:

Slippery Elm; Gray Elm, Moose Elm, Red Elm, Soft Elm

Family:

Ulmaceae (Elm family)

Geographic Region:

U. rubra is found from North Dakota to Texas and over to the Atlantic Ocean. It grows in parts of every state except for Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. It is also found in the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec.

Habitat:

Slippery elm trees prefer part to full sun and moist, limestone filled soil. The trees grow best in riparian forests and buffers—areas of forested land along the edges of freshwater.

Lifespan:

Slippery elm trees can live up to 200 years, though their susceptibility to diseases such as Dutch Elm means that their actual lifespans are usually much shorter.

Reproduction:

Flowers emerge in small clusters during late-winter or early spring and are pollinated primarily by the wind. In late spring, they form circular, winged seeds that are similarly dispersed by the wind.

Ability to Withstand Disturbance and Overharvest:

This small understory tree often benefits from tree-fall disturbances opening the canopy. Due to Dutch Elm Disease, there are very few mature Slippery Elm trees left in nature. Harvesting currently healthy trees for lumber or bark could remove disease resistance from the gene pool.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Ulmus rubra is listed as being of “Special Concern” in Rhode Island, and “Possibly Extirpated” in Maine.

Ulmus rubra is of “Least Concern” globally, according to the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

U. rubra was used historically as a laxative; for coughs, colds and sore throats; and was given to women in labor to help ease the process of childbirth. The wood was also used to craft a variety of tools, such as mortars and pestles, baskets, and floor mats.

In modern days, the inner-bark of U. rubra is used as a bit of a cure-all, but studies have not yet proven or disproven its effectiveness in treating anything aside from throat aches. It is used in manufacturing throat lozenges and some baby foods.

Recommendations For Industrial and Home Use:

Due to the declining wild populations of U. rubra it is important to not use any wild-harvested bark unless harvested from naturally felled trees. Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), Comfrey (Symphytum spp.), and Mullein (Verbascum spp.) have been suggested by herbalists as potential alternatives for slippery elm bark. Please consult your doctor before taking Ulmus rubra or any other medicinal plant.

Citations:

Slippery Elm Podcast -The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre


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