This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This is an ancient tree, remains being found in the Preglacial beds at Happisburgh, Suffolk, and in Interglacial beds at Grays, Essex. It now occurs in Europe and in Siberia, and is generally distributed in the N. Temperate Zone.
In Great Britain it does not grow in S. Hants, E. Kent, Hunts, Glamorgan, Pembroke, Flint, N. Lincs, Isle of Man, Kirkcudbright, Roxburgh, Orkneys and Shetlands, but elsewhere as far north as Sutherland, and is indigenous and naturalized in many places. It is native in Ireland and the Channel Islands. It is found in Yorks at 1300 ft.
The Wych Elm grows commonly in hedgerows and by the sides of highways, where it is doubtless planted, but it is also found in woods where it may well be native. It is frequently utilized in parks and other places to form avenues or rows of timber trees.
The general habit of the Wych Elm is drooping, with a twisted bole or base of the trunk. It is a large tree. The bole may be 50 ft. in girth. The bark is corky or not, with thick ribs and deep furrows, horizontal or somewhat spiral. The branches are spreading. The twigs are downy. Suckers are sent up by the roots, especially when cut. The leaves are large, rough above, downy below, egg-shaped to oblong, bluntly pointed, with double or treble teeth, the base unequal or heart-shaped. The stipules soon fall.
The flowers are apetalous, 5-7 in a cyme, with a bell-shaped perianth fringed with hairs, with blunt lobes, 4-5-cleft, and persistent. There are 4-6 or 5 stamens, with purple anthers inserted on the perianth tube, opposite the lobes. There are 2 styles. The fruit, a samara oblong or rounded, has the seed in the centre, and is notched above.
The Wych Elm is 80-120 ft. in height, and flowers before the leaves expand. It is a deciduous tree, propagating itself from seed, and from suckers sent up by the roots.
The flowers are bisexual, the male and female organs being on the same flower as a rule, with 5 anther-stalks, and purple anthers opening outwards, the styles (2) awl-shaped, stigmatic on the inner face. At the base are leaves in the lowest 10-12 axils, flowers above, in dichasial cymes, bearing 2 branches successively reduced to one flower.
As with other trees, the flowers of the Wych Elm, which appear before the leaves, are wind-pollinated. The stigmas mature first, before the anthers. The flowers are not in catkins, but in groups. The perianth has 4-6 lobes, and the stamens are the same number. Before the anthers open the anther-stalks lengthen and stand high above the feathery stigma, so that the pollen can be readily blown away. The stigmas are long-lived. As a rule the pollen is blown upward, some settling eventually on stigmas in flowers higher on the tree.
The fruit is a samara, and winged, and the wind carries the seed some distance from the parent tree.
The Wych Elm grows on a sand soil or clay soil, or in sandy loam, and is widespread.
Many fungi attack the Elm, such as Taphrina, Mycosphcerella, Psilocybe, Hypholoma, Flammula, Pholiota, Pleurotus, Collybia, Fomes, Hydnum, Pleospora.
Several insects cause galls or infest it, such as (amongst many Schizoneura ulmi, Pemphigus pallidus (Leopard Moth), Zeuzera cesculi, Orchestes ulmi, Scolytus destructor, S. multistriaius, Hylesinui vittatus (Winter Moth), Cheimatobia brumata, Tetraneura ulmi, Typh-locyba ulmi, Pseudococcus aceris, Lecanium caprece.
Ulmus, Pliny, is from the Latin for Elm. Wych is from A.S. wice, with the sense of bending, from the pendulous branches, and the second Latin name, meaning smooth, is misapplied, the leaves being asperous.
This tree is called Chewbark, Elm, Broad-leaved, Scotch, Witch or Wych Elm, Halse, Witch Hazel, Helm, Mountain Elm, Orne Tree, Witch, Witch Wood, Wych Wood. The name Chewbark is explained thus: "The inner bark of the Elm for a certain pleasant clamminess is chewed by children, and hence the tree is called Chewbark".
The name Wych Elm was applied because its wood was used to make the chests called Wyches, Hueches, or Whycches, French huche, A.S. hwaecce. It was also called Witch Hazel, because the leaves are like the leaves of the Hazel. Gerarde says: "Old men affirme that when long boughes (bows) were in great use, there were very many made of the wood of this tree, for which purpose it is mentioned in the statutes of England by the name of Witch Hasell."
The Edda derives man's descent from the Ash and Elm. It was a prophetic tree being a tree of dreams.
" Full in the midst a spreading elm displayed His aged arms and cast a mighty shade; Each trembling leaf with some light vision teems, And leaves impregnated with airy dreams."
A man who makes unreasonable requests, and equally expects them to be gratified, is said to "ask an elm tree for pears".
The bark is astringent, contains tannin, and being mucilaginous it acts as a demulcent. The leaves have been used as fodder for cattle. As timber it was used for ships, but steel has now replaced the old wooden ships to a great extent. It is also used for coffins and other purposes.
Essential Specific Characters: 278. Ulmus g/abra, Huds. - Tree, branches drooping, leaves large, ovate, doubly serrate, unequal at the base, seed below middle, flowers 5-7-fid.