Elm, Huntingdon (Ulmus x hollandica 'vegeta')
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Huntingdon elm is a cultivated hybrid of the smooth-leaved elm and the wych elm.
Common name: Huntingdon elm
Scientific name: Ulmus x hollandica 'vegeta'
UK provenance: non-native
Interesting fact: before metal was widely available, many English towns had elm water mains, including Bristol, Reading, Exeter, Southampton, Hull and Liverpool.
What does Huntingdon elm look like?
Overview: Huntingdon elm can grow to 30m. The bark is grey with crossing fissures, and twigs are dark grey and covered in coarse hairs. It was raised in a Huntingdon nursery in the 18th century.
Leaves: toothed, glossy green above with tufts of hair underneath, on the vein joints. They have a characteristic asymmetrical base and taper to a sudden point at the top.
Flowers: red-purple in colour, and appear in clusters of 10 to 20.
Fruits: pollinated by wind, they develop into small, winged fruits known as samaras. These are dispersed by wind.
Look out for: all elms have distinctly asymmetric leaf bases. Leaves are rough to the touch on the top surface.
Could be confused with: other elms or hazel (Corylus avellana).
Identified in winter by: twigs are sparsely hairy often becoming smooth with age. Buds lack a leaf scar below them.
Where to find Huntingdon elm
Huntingdon elm was widely planted in the UK, particularly between the end of the nineteenth century and the 1930s, owing to its very rapid growth and so can be found around towns and residential areas.
It appears to have some resistance to Dutch elm disease, so remains an occasional feature of town parks and some hedges.
Value to wildlife
Many birds eat elm seeds and the leaves provide food for the caterpillars of many moths, including the peppered, light emerald and white spotted pinion moths. Caterpillars of the white letter hairstreak butterfly feed on elms and the species has declined dramatically since Dutch elm disease arrived in the UK.
Mythology and symbolism
Elms used to be associated with melancholy and death, perhaps because the trees can drop dead branches without warning. Elm wood was also the preferred choice for coffins. In Lichfield it was the custom to carry elm twigs in a procession around the Cathedral Close on Ascension Day, then to throw them in the font.
How we use Huntingdon elm
Elm wood is strong and durable with a tight-twisted grain, and is resistant to water. It has been used in decorative turning, and to make boats and boat parts, furniture, wheel hubs, wooden water pipes, floorboards and coffins.
Huntingdon elm is highly susceptible to Dutch elm disease, a fungal disease which devastated populations of elms since it arrived in the UK in the 1960s. However, it shows some resistance to the disease.
Elms can also be affected by galls from aphids, which migrate from fruit cultivated trees.