There are apparently a whole bunch of different types of elm. The two most common, however, seem to be the Wych elm, and the English elm. Whilst out on my local urban stream today I think I came across both types, so I’ll illustrate them both here on the same page. I’ve also spotted them in many other areas of mixed woodland, so I’m guessing they’re an important tree, and well worth knowing about.
There seems to be one thing that is common to all the elms, and which makes them quite easy to identify. At the base of the leaf there is a asymmetry between the two sides of the leaf, so that one side of the leaf seems to stop short of the other. The exact details of this asymmetry is a great clue for telling the different kinds of elms from each other. I’ve found myself easily spotting leaves that look like this, and smugly thinking to myself.. hmm.. definitely elmish. Note that also common to all the elms is that the leaves are jaggedy around the edge, and very short-stalked.
Wych elm leaves are quite large when fully grown – around the length of your hand – and have a long oval, almost oblong shape to them. As mentioned above, they have a big asymmetry between the leaf sides at the base. You can see this really clearly in the second photo. Important to note is that the longer side does not overlap at all over the shorter side – see the English elm, below – so that bare stalk is clearly visible on the shorter side.
Another good indicator that your elm is Wych comes from the seeds and seed-pods. In the photo below notice how the seeds lie almost exactly in the centre of the pod. In the English elm, the seed is positioned nearer the top of the pod.
My photos of English elm aren’t as good as those for Wych, but they’ll have to do for now. The key difference between the two is that the leaves of the English elm are more rounded than the Wych. At the base, the asymmetry is slightly less pronounced, and is well hidden by the fact that the ‘longer’ side of the leaf often wraps over the ‘shorter’ side to mask the bare stalk.