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(Elm family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: The seeds or inner bark of certain Ulmus L. species have been used in Chinese traditional medicine to prepare antiparasitic agents. Other preparations of the mucilaginous inner bark, known as slippery elm, have been used widely as healing poultices. •
• Adverse effects: Rough hairs on leaf surfaces of some Ulmus L. species are reportedly capable of causing mechanical irritation, possibly with chemical irritation. The pollen has been incriminated as a cause of airborne contact dermatitis. The timber may contain sesquiterpene ortho-quinones and/or other quinones with the potential to elicit allergic contact dermatitis, the risk being greater if the tree was infected with Dutch elm disease. Some species are spiny. •
• Veterinary aspects: Isolated reports of the use of Ulmus-derived preparations in the treatment of skin problems in asses and horses are to be found in the literature. •

By removing several genera previously included in this family to the Cannabaceae, the work of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2003) has reduced the Ulmaceae to 7 genera comprising about 50 species of trees found in northern temperate regions and in tropical America (Mabberley 2008). The principal genera are Ampelocera Klotzsch [10 spp.] and Ulmus L. (25–30 spp.).

Many are to be found in cultivation as ornamentals or as bonsai specimens (Hunt 1968/70). The family is a source of several commercially valuable timbers.

Hemiptelea davidii Planch.
[syns Planera davidii Hance, Zelkova davidii Hemsley]
Thorned Elm

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus L.

The genus comprises 25-30 species of trees found in northern temperate regions. Many are important sources of timber (Mabberley 2008).

Lovell et al. (1955) observed a strong (4+) patch test reaction to "elm pollen oil" in a patient with allergies to various tree pollen oils who presented with an airborne contact dermatitis. Elm pollen was later reported to produce a positive patch test reaction in a patient who had hand eczema (Agrup 1969).

"L'ormeau" — elm — has been incriminated in wood-cutters' eczema (Schulmann & Détouillon 1932), but this is now known to be caused by lichens and liverworts growing on the trees.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus americana L.
[syn. Ulmus floridana Chapman]
American Elm, White Elm

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus davidiana Planch.
David Elm

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus glabra Huds.
[syn. Ulmus montana With.]
Wych Elm, Elm

A night watchman with facial dermatitis, who was often hit on the face by leaves and branches of a tree identified [possibly incorrectly] as Ulmus montana, was found to be sensitive to the leaves but not to elm wood. Tests with leaves from several other plants were negative. Patch tests to the leaves produced positive reactions in 17/67 control subjects. A further case of dermatitis caused by elm leaves was observed in a patient who had trimmed an elm hedge (Genner & Bonnevie 1938, Bonnevie 1939). This irritant reaction may depend on the occasional penetration of the skin by the small hairs on the leaf producing mechanical and chemical effects (Woods 1962).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus × hollandica Mill.
Dutch Elm

This hybrid is derived from Ulmus minor Mill. × Ulmus glabra Huds. Several cultivars are to be found in cultivation (Mabberley 2008).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus macrocarpa Hance
Large-Fruited Elm

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus minor Mill.
[syns Ulmus campestris auct.]
Elm, English Elm, Field Elm, Small-Leaved Elm

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus parvifolia Jacq.
[syn. Ulmus campestris L. var. chinensis Loudon, Ulmus chinensis Pers.]
Chinese Elm, Lace Bark Elm

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus procera Salisb.
[syn. Ulmus minor Mill. var. vulgaris R.H.Richens]
English Elm

According to Woods & Calnan (1976), the leaves of English elm and of other unspecified species of elm have irritant hairs on their under surfaces. In view of the difficulties taxonomists have had in classifying the British elms (Armstrong & Sell 1996), the botanical identity of the elms to which Woods & Calnan referred is unestablished.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus rubra Muhl.
[syn. Ulmus fulva Michx.]
Slippery Elm, Oohooska, Red Elm, Moose Elm, Sweet Elm

The mucilaginous inner bark provides the crude drug known as Slippery Elm Bark or Cortex Ulmi Interior, which was formerly official in the pharmacopoeias of Britain, France, United States and elsewhere. Felter & Lloyd (1898) provided a detailed description of its internal and external uses, noting that: "As an emollient poultice, the bark has been found very serviceable when applied to inflamed parts, suppurating tumors, fresh wounds, burns, scalds, bruises, and ulcers; and in the excruciating pains of the testes, which accompany the metastasis of mumps, whether of recent or long standing, the constant use of an elm poultice, regularly changed every 4 hours, will be found a superior remedy. Notwithstanding its general value as an application to ulcers, it will often be found injurious, especially when used as a cataplasm to ulcers of the limbs, rendering the ulcer more irritable and difficult to heal, and frequently converting a simple sore, which might be cured by astringent or other washes, into an almost intractable ulcer; much care is, therefore, required in the application of this bark externally." Wren (1975) similarly extolled its virtues as a poultice. Additionally, slippery elm bark heated for several minutes with fats has long been known to render them resistant to rancidification (Wright 1852), this antioxidant property possibly contributing to its healing properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, the crude drug is known as chi yu, otherwise known as Cortex Ulmus Fulva, and has similar uses.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus serotina Sarg.
September Elm

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Ulmus thomasii Sarg.
[syn. Ulmus racemosa D.Thomas]
Rock Elm

[Information available but not yet included in database]


  • Agrup G (1969) Hand eczema and other hand dermatoses in South Sweden. Acta Dermato-Venereologica 49(Suppl 61): 1-91
  • Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2003) An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141(4): 399-436 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Armstrong JV, Sell PD (1996) A revision of the British elms (Ulmus L., Ulmaceae): the historical background. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 120(1): 39-50 [doi] [doi-2] [url] [url-2]
  • Bonnevie P (1939) Aetiologie und Pathogenese der Ekzemkrankheiten. Klinische Studien über die Ursachen der Ekzeme unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des diagnostischen Wertes der Ekzemproben. [Aetiology and Pathogenesis of Eczema. Clinical studies on the causes of eczema with special attention to the diagnostic value of eczema tests]. Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth [WorldCat]
  • Felter HW, Lloyd JU (1898) King's American Dispensatory, 18th edn; 3rd revn, I & II. Cincinnati: Ohio Valley [WorldCat] [url]
  • Genner V, Bonnevie P (1938) Eczematous eruptions produced by leaves of trees and bushes. Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology 37(4): 583-589 [doi] [url]
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Lovell RG, Mathews KP, Sheldon JM (1955) Dermatitis venenata from tree pollen oils. A clinical report. Journal of Allergy 26(5): 408-414 [doi] [url] [pmid]
  • Mabberley DJ (2008) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 3rd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Schulmann E, Détouillon P (1932) L'eczéma du bois et la sensibilisation sylvestre. [Wood-induced eczema and forest-associated sensitisation]. Paris Médical (83): 55-61 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Woods B (1962) Irritant plants. Transactions of the St John's Hospital Dermatological Society 48: 75-82 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Woods B, Calnan CD (1976) Toxic woods. British Journal of Dermatology 95(Suppl 13): 1-97 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Wren RC (1975) Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. (Re-edited and enlarged by Wren RW). Bradford, Devon: Health Science Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Wright CW (1852) A new method for preventing fat and fixed oils from becoming rancid. American Journal of Pharmacy 18(Apr): 180 [url] [url-2]
  • [ + 15 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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