Some of Ireland's finest trees were Elms. However, most of these were destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease during the 1970's. Pollen records show there was a similar, drastic decline in our elm population about 5,000 years ago. This is also believed to have been disease related. The wych elm, our only native elm, appears more resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. However, it does not produce suckers and must be grown from seed.
In summer, elms are easy to recognise as their leaves are lopsided. The leaves of wych elm are coarse to touch, oval in shape and have serrated or toothed margins. Many varieties of wych elm and smooth leaved elms were introduced and planted in the past, mostly for timber. Elm thrives on moist, free-draining, limey soil, ie good agricultural land. It is not found on exposed or upland sites or on poor soil. Elm makes a fine parkland tree but tends not to be a forest tree.
Elm suckers from the base of the tree and these suckers can be used for propagation.
Although elm was classified as a ‘commoner of the wood' it is found in the Gaelic form Leamhán in the names of many towns, town-lands and even a river – the Laune in Co Kerry. The usual Anglicised forms are Lavey in Co Cavan and Loughill, a name found in the midlands and the south and west of Ireland. The timber of elm is water resistant. In medieval times water pipes were made from elm. It was also greatly valued for making coffins.
Elm trees greater than 40 metres in height have been recorded. However, most of these were destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease and present day elms are only 30-years-old, having grown from suckers in hedgerows.