Northern Empress Elm: The Empress is Coming

Authored by Sheldon Falk - Owner
Dec 20th, 2019
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I get a big kick out of new trees that are easy to grow and offer a lot of interest in the beauty region. I may be premature in introducing this tree simply because it may not be accessible in large sizes yet. However, I don’t need to have a gift of prophecy to know that this tree will be a staple in the landscape within the next 15 years. Why my optimism? Every once in a while you find a strong winner in the tree department. This one is strong! First of all, it has to be hardy for our cold climate. Then it needs to be an easy grower in our heavy clay soil, it needs some drought resistance, and it needs to look good preferably in multiple seasons. It also helps if the tree doesn’t have much seed. 

So the tree I think holds merit in the future is the Northern Empress Elm. This tree has been introduced by the North Dakota State University. It is a selection of Japanese Elm which means it is not going to succumb to Dutch Elm Disease like the American varieties. Like the Discovery Elm it will be very cold tolerant, but what will really make it popular is the fall colour. 

This elm turns ruby red in the fall! The advantage it holds over all the maples is its soil and moisture tolerance. Its adaptability is much better than the Amur Maple’s red or even Freeman Maples. It has even more features that make it nice all-around. One is that it will probably not reach more than 30 to 35 feet in height and 20 feet in width. This means it fits into our smaller yards better. The Northern Empress Elm is seedless, well almost. Nothing like its Siberian Elm cousin who drops seeds endlessly it seems.

This elm was also selected because it has a much richer green tone within its own species. Being an elm also means that the growth rate will be quite good, I’m expecting 18 to 24 inches per year under good cultivation practices. A tree like this only gets introduced into the landscape about every 5 years. It is already available in small sizes, which isn’t the worst because it is a relatively good grower. I’ve already planted two at my home site and one in the arboretum at the nursery! 

I’m excited to introduce people to Northern Empress Elm because I believe it will be a real blessing. The elms are once again fighting their way back to the top.

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