Japanese zelkova, or Zelkova serrata, is a medium to large deciduous tree, typically growing 50 to 80 feet tall with an upwardly-branching, vase-shaped crown. It possesses a graceful form, handsome foliage, and attractive bark. Zelkova is in the Elm family and is frequently recommended as a substitute for American elm (Ulmus americana) because of its resistance to Dutch elm disease. However, Japanese zelkova is so attractive that it should be considered a tree of the highest quality in its own right.
In spring small green flowers appear just as the foliage emerges. The flowers give way to wingless drupes that ripen in autumn. But the form and foliage are it best points. The leaves are elliptic, emerald-green to three inches long with a coarse serration. In the species autumn color can be anything from a simple yellow to beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange. But there are cultivars known for more consistent and dynamic colors. Young trees have smooth gray bark which sheds with age to reveal an orangish inner bark.
It has a medium to fast growth rate when grown in a well-drained soil and sunny location. It will eventually become a splendid, vase-shaped 80 foot specimen, ideal as a shade tree or street tree. But there are even cultivars which make excellent Bonsai subjects. And other cultivars, such as Wireless zelkova, reach only 25 feet in height, well-suited to today’s smaller gardens. Zelkovas are tolerant of heat, drought, wind, and urban stress and are free from most insect and disease problems.

As usual, trees this special will not be found in the popular landscape nurseries but more likely in a specialty, mail-order, plant nursery.

Japanese zelkova


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