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Education & Publications

About Elms


Elm treesIn communities across Manitoba, the American Elm dominates the landscape. Elms grace our yards, parks, riverbanks and form a lush canopy- a bower of foliage over our streets. There is no other tree that compares to the American Elm in terms of hardiness, salt tolerance, longevity, suitability to our climate and sheer grandeur. It defines our neighbourhoods and our tenacious prairie spirit.

There are over 170,000 American Elms in Winnipeg. Most visitors are astounded by our urban forest- you literally can't see the buildings for the forest when flying into Winnipeg.

Unfortunately, elms across the world have been threatened or eliminated by Dutch Elm Disease (DED). In many provinces, the elm population has been wiped out by this deadly disease. In Manitoba, both the provincial government and many municipalities have cost-shared integrated DED control programs which have safeguarded the elms so far. With the additional involvement of active communities, Manitoba continues to have the largest population of native American elms in any province of Canada.


The American elm is a majestic tree, long-leafed, ideally suited to urban conditions. Its mature height is 60 to 75 feet or 18 to 23 metres.

To Identify an American Elm:

Look for a vase or umbrella-like shape:
Elm treeFrom a distance, the American elm is one of the easiest trees to identify. The trunk is quite straight and often flares at the base. It forks into a few large, ascending limbs which divide repeatedly into fanning, drooping branchlets, forming a graceful umbrella shaped crown.

Elm LeafLook at the leaf:

The oval leaf has a prominent double-toothed edge and an uneven base (one side is longer than the other). Leaves are about 4 1/2 inches (11 cm) long and 2-3 inches (5.5 cm) wide, dark green above and paler green on the undersurface.

Elm barkLook at the bark:

The bark is generally dark grey to grey-brown in colour. The outer bark has broad, intersecting ridges and a rough flaky appearance.


The most common questions posed to members of the Coalition to Save the Elms are:

  • Why do you fight to save the elms?
  • Why bother?
  • They are all going to die anyway!

Tree SculptureIn a way, this is true - every living thing does die - sooner or later. We want to make sure that the elm dies later - after a long healthy life! And we have years of experience, scientific and anecdotal evidence, success stories (and catastrophes) from elsewhere and ever-lasting hope that the elm tree will survive DED We are confident that with legislation, DED management programs and the development of long-term solutions from research, the American elm will flourish.

There still remains no other tree so ideally suited to the urban setting and to our harsh climate than the American, or white elm as it is referred to in Eastern Canada. The American elm, indigenous to the province, withstands the extremes of prairie winters and tolerates salt dumped on our streets,soil compaction and the vagaries of city works and operations departments.

Urban elm forests in 50 Manitoba cities and towns are valued at over $1.1 billion. In Winnipeg alone, the value of the elms has been estimated at between $651 million and $1.2 billion, not including property values. (Source: A.R. Westwood, "A Cost Benefit Analysis of Manitoba's Integrated Dutch Elm Disease Management Program, 1975-1990;Entomology Society, Manitoba, Vol. 47, 1991, pp. 44-59.) It makes sense to look after this investment.

Protecting Elms on a Construction SiteIf the Dutch Elm Disease (DED) program was discontinued or partially reduced to allow even a doubling of the annual elm loss rate, the result would be catastrophic. During the next decade Manitobans would be faced with a $25 million tree removal bill, a $28 million bill for replacement trees, a significant decline in real estate values and near complete loss of the urban forests in many towns and cities.

In simple economic terms, it makes financial sense to manage DED in Manitoba, Natural Resources has concluded.

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