Lacebark Elm gained popularity in the landscape and nursery trade when American Elm across the United States were infected with Dutch Elm Disease (DED). DED usually results in significant decline and death of most American Elms. Enter stage center – Ulmus parvifolia – as the proposed replacement for our beloved American Elm.

Lacebark Elm became a very popular nursery tree. It was brought to the United States sometime in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s but didn’t see it’s hey day until horticulturists saw it’s potential in the last 30-40 years. Dr. Michael Dirr was one of the foremost proponents of the tree introducing multiple cultivars including ‘Athena’, ‘Allee’, and ‘Burgundy’. Nurseries caught on and it’s been grown all over the United States and planted in landscapes.

Like most things in life, pros and cons exist for this beautiful and vigorous tree. The species produces a massive amount of seed in the fall which readily spreads via wind and water. It’s planted in all types of locations including college campuses, residential lawns, tough urban streets, and parking lot islands. The seed ends up in natural areas and germinates resulting in thick stands of lacebark elm amongst our native trees and other non-native trees.

Lacebark Elm has been placed on several invasive species lists including the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the South Carolina Exotic Pest Plan Council (SC-EPPC). It’s been removed from recommended tree lists by places like the city of Atlanta and Auburn University. South Carolina Botanical Garden completely removed their allee of Lacebark Elms in an effort to eradicate it from their grounds.

Lacebark Elm served a valuable niche for a time in the American landscape. I propose that we now consider our native elms that are DED-resistant and show amazing promise for lining our streets, filling our parking lot islands, and shading our homes. DED-resistant cultivars now on the market of American Elm like ‘Jefferson’, ‘New Harmony’, and ‘Princeton’ should be grown by nurseries and used in place of Lacebark Elm in some situations.

And don’t worry, we won’t be getting rid of Lacebark Elm in the United States anytime soon. It’s presence will now be almost impossible to eradicate. Let’s just not contribute to it’s future spread and displacement of native flora when we have DED-resistant American Elm cultivars.