Ash Tree Vs Elm Tree: Side By Side — Forest Wildlife (2023)

Some trees can be quite difficult to tell apart if you don’t look too closely. Ash trees and elm trees are two such species. On first glance, you may think they are the same type of tree. So, what sets them apart from each other? What are their similarities and differences? In this article, we’ll answer these questions as we compare the ash tree vs. the elm tree.

What You'll Learn Today

  • What is an Ash Tree?
  • What is an Elm Tree?
  • Ash Tree Vs. Elm Tree: Similarities and Differences
    • Similarities
    • Differences
  • Conclusion

What is an Ash Tree?

Ash Tree Vs Elm Tree: Side By Side — Forest Wildlife (1)

Ash trees are widely distributed around the Northern Hemisphere. There are many different species of ash that can be found throughout the world.

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Ash trees are known for having diamond-shaped furrows or soft, scaly plates in their bark, as well as oppositely-arranged compound leaves. They produce single-winged fruits which are released from the trees and blow in the wind each summer.

Physical characteristics differ somewhat between the different species of ash. For example, the green ash produces smaller, narrower fruits than the white ash and is only about half as tall and wide.

Ash trees can range in height from 30 to 80 feet and may have trunks from 1 to 4 feet in diameter depending on species. The white ash is generally the largest species, growing 60 to 80 feet tall on average.

All ash trees have compound leaves made up of oppositely-arranged leaflets. The leaves are generally a light yellow-green color.

Ash trees grow best in loose, well-draining soil, and they need plentiful amounts of both water and sunlight. It is not uncommon to find several of them growing together.

(Video) How to tell White, Black, & Green Ash Apart

In some areas, ash trees have been nearly wiped out by emerald ash borers. These insects bore into the wood of the tree, slowly killing them from the inside out.

Check out this video to learn to identify an ash tree.

(Video) Right Tree, Right Place

What is an Elm Tree?

Elm trees are also found widely throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Like ash, there are many different species of elm, and they have slightly different physical characteristics depending on the species.

Elm trees generally have brownish-gray, diamond-furrowed bark, similar to some ash trees. However, elm leaves are generally a darker green, have a more deeply-veined, toothlike appearance, and are alternately arranged on the branches.

In terms of height, ash trees vary widely from species to species. Some species, such as the slippery elm and English elm, can grow more than 130 feet tall; other species have a more midrange height of 20 to 80 feet, while the camperdown elm only grows about 10 to 15 feet tall.

Elm trees technically don’t have compound leaves, though their leaves are often arranged on the branch to appear that they are large leaflets making up large compound leaves. They are alternately rather than oppositely arranged, and the leaves often appear to have a large chunk taken out of them, as shown in the video below.

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Elm trees also grow well in loose, well-draining soil, and they need plenty of water, but they require full sunlight to really thrive. For this reason, they frequently grow more isolated rather than in stands of trees.

Elm trees are frequently targeted by Dutch elm disease, a fungus spread to and between the trees by bark beetles.

Ash Tree Vs. Elm Tree: Similarities and Differences

Ash Tree Vs Elm Tree: Side By Side — Forest Wildlife (2)

As you can probably tell from the above sections, ash and elm trees have some obvious similarities. That said, you may have noticed a few differences as well.

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Let’s take a closer look at these similarities and differences.


  • Distribution and habitat: Both ash and elm are found all over the Northern Hemisphere, throughout North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. They are often found growing in the same habitats, as they require similar growing conditions.
  • Overall appearance: From a distance, ash and elm trees can look quite similar. They both have the same beautifully-patterned brown-gray bark and a similar-looking leaf pattern.
  • Susceptibility: Both ash and elm are susceptible to disease and pests, though they are most often targeted by different threats. As noted above, emerald ash borers pose the greatest threat to ash trees, while bark beetles spreading Dutch elm disease are the biggest risk for elms.
  • Species diversity: Both ashes and elms come in a variety of different species, ranging in size and physical attributes.


  • Scientific families: Despite their similarity of appearance, ash and elm trees belong to different scientific families. Ash trees belong to the family Oleaceae and the genus Fraxinus, while elm trees are in the family Ulmaceae and are denoted by the genus Ulmus.
  • Leaves: The most notable physical difference between ash and elm trees is their leaves. Ash trees have oppositely-arranged leaflets making up compound leaves, while elm trees have simple leaves arranged alternately on the branches.
  • Size: Both ash and elm trees come in different sizes depending on species, but elm trees tend to vary in size more than ash trees do. Some elm trees are much smaller than ash trees, while many are much larger.
  • Sunlight requirements: Though they generally have the same growing conditions, ash and elm differ in their need for sunlight. Elm trees require full sunlight, while ash trees can thrive in partial shade.


Ash trees and elm trees are easy to confuse because, at first glance, they look quite similar; they also frequently grow in the same areas. That said, if you look a little closer, you will start to notice differences between them, especially in the arrangement of their leaves.


What's the difference between an ash and an elm tree? ›

The fundamental difference between ash and elm, English elm is a hedgerow tree whereas ash is a woodland tree which can also be found in hedgerows. Ash has traditionally been planted as a woodland and hedge tree.

Are elms endangered? ›

What does a dying elm tree look like? ›

A dying elm may have missing leaves and hanging branches. Then, you'll want to look at the bark. Dead elm tree bark will be light gray to dark gray with only a hint of the brown left. You might even notice the bark is cracking or splitting from the tree or missing in chunks.

What trees are resistant to Dutch elm disease? ›

Hybrid Asian elms

All have demonstrated resistance to Dutch elm disease and are great selections for tough sites where other trees won't grow. In general, hybrid elms are smaller at maturity than their American cousins. Many have leaves and mature forms that are distinctly different from American elms.

What is the problem with ash trees? ›

Ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) are no longer recommended for planting in the Midwest because of the threat of the emerald ash borer (EAB), a highly-destructive wood-boring insect pest. However, ash trees remain important as up to 6 percent of woodland trees and up to 70 percent of urban trees are ash species.

What are the disadvantages of ash wood? ›

Like teak, ash wood has open grains, which is a disadvantage if you want an ultra-smooth furniture texture. Although it is moisture and shock resistant, ash wood is susceptible to insects and fungus when exposed to soil. This makes the material unsuitable for outdoor furniture pieces.

Are elms good for wildlife? ›

They provide food and shelter for many different species of animals. Honey bees and possibly some native bees may gather pollen from elm flowers. The ripe fruit are eaten by many species of birds, as well as, squirrels and chipmunks.

What are elms good for? ›

The wood from American elm is remarkably durable even when constantly wet. It is used for dam and lock construction. Elm logs hollowed out in Roman times for use as water pipes, have been un-earthed in good order. In fine furniture-making, elm is used for chair seats and bent parts.

Do deer eat American elm trees? ›

IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Although American elm is not considered a preferred browse, deer, rabbits, and hares will occasionally browse the leaves and twigs [24,49].

Is elm a good tree? ›

The easy to grow, very hardy and tolerant tree will live for 300 years or more. American Elm is a highly desirable shade tree with moderately dense foliage and a symmetrical crown in a broad or upright vase shape. When used as a street tree, shallow roots may displace sidewalks.

Do elm trees have deep roots? ›

Root system is shallow, fibrous, and in dry areas may have a tap root. Soil Texture - Grows best in rich, moist, well-drained soils, but adapts to a wide range of soil types. Soil pH - 5.5 to 8.0.

What are common problems with elm trees? ›

The most devastating elm tree diseases are Dutch elm disease and elm phloem necrosis. Dutch elm disease is caused by a fungus spread by elm bark beetles. The microscopic organism that causes elm phloem disease is spread by white-banded leafhoppers.

Are elm trees good for yard? ›

They are fast growers. You can plant American elms in your lawn, an abandoned meadows or as a street tree or shade tree. Elms are striking in the landscape, so plant where you can enjoy them! Keep a large mulch ring around the tree to reduce grass competition and damage from lawn implements.

Do all elms get Dutch elm disease? ›

The American elm, Ulmus americana, is extremely susceptible and the disease has killed hundreds of thousands of elms across the U.S. All native elms are susceptible, as are European elms, but the Asiatic elms, U. parvifolia (Lace bark elm) and U. pumila (Siberian elm) are highly resistant to the disease.

What is the best elm tree? ›

  • 01 of 10. American Elm (Ulmus americana) ...
  • 02 of 10. Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii') ...
  • 03 of 10. Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) ...
  • 04 of 10. Cherry-Bark Elm (Ulmus villosa) ...
  • 05 of 10. Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) ...
  • 06 of 10. David Elm (Ulmus davidiana) ...
  • 07 of 10. English Elm (Ulmus procera) ...
  • 08 of 10.
Aug 12, 2022

What state has the most ash trees? ›

Emerald Ash Borer

Here is a fun fact about Minnesota: It has more ash trees—an estimated one billion—than any other state in the country.

Should I get rid of ash tree? ›

Some homeowners might be hesitant to remove dead ash trees because they provide valuable habitat for a range of woodland animals and mushrooms. However, we do not recommend keeping them standing unless you can guarantee that no people, domesticated animals, or property will ever be in their path if they fall.

Are ash trees good to have? ›

Two types of ash do quite well throughout California. If you prefer a smaller tree that grows to about 20 feet, then a California ash should fit the bill. If you prefer a 30- to 50-foot tree with a wide crown to cast shade, then you should choose an Arizona ash.

Does ash keep ants away? ›

Wood ashes can be used to deter pests like slugs and snails, and even to repel ants. Sprinkle a small amount or ring around susceptible plants and reapply after the rain washes the ash away.

Does ash wood rot easily? ›

Ash wood also tends to be one of the least rot-resistant species, so it's not something you'd want to keep outside.

What is special about ash wood? ›

Ash wood (fraxinus) is strong, dense, lighter in colour than oak and smooth to the touch. It takes gluing, stains and polishes well, making it popular for woodworking projects. Less prized than oak and more physically appealing than beechwood, Ash is a great middle-ground for many tasks.

Do deer like elm trees? ›

Other common woody browse include elm, oak, hackberry, greenbrier, honeysuckle and grape vines. When these food sources are tough to come by, deer will eat leaves, even old dead ones on the forest floor.

Do squirrels like elm trees? ›

Early blooming trees like Elms and Maples produce a bonanza of high energy seeds, greatly coveted by Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Their frenetic activity high in the trees is a common sight in early spring.

Do squirrels eat elm? ›

For some unknown reason, they love to chew off the ends of the elm-tree limbs. One thought is the tree limbs may accumulate extra sugars as they prepare for fall, and the squirrels find them extra tasty. Many gardeners feel the squirrels are just up to a bit of mischief.

Why are elm trees special? ›

In Celtic mythology, too, elm trees were associated with the Underworld. They had a special affinity with elves who guarded the burial mounds, their dead and the associated passage into the Underworld. Elm trees in Britain can grow to become some of the tallest and largest native trees.

What is the lifespan of an elm tree? ›

In open-grown or sparse stands, the trees usually fork near the ground and form wide arching crowns. American elm is a long-lived species, often reaching 175 to 200 years, with some older than 300 years.

Do elms have invasive roots? ›

American Elm (Ulmus americana) – The moisture-loving roots of American elms often invade sewer lines and drain pipes.

What are deer's favorite trees? ›

Oak leaves. No tree is more revered in the whitetail world than oaks, of which there are a multitude of types. Oak trees provide an array of food to local whitetails depending on their age and variety, Duren noted. “Red oak seedlings are a favorite browse for deer, while white oak acorns provide a favored mast crop.”

What trees do deer eat the most of? ›

Preferred Deer Foods
  • White Cedar (Arbor Vitae) - Evergreen with flat scalelike "leaves." Some varieties used for ornamental shrubbery. ...
  • White Pine - The only Michigan pine with five needles in a cluster. ...
  • Maples - Trees with buds opposite each other Sugar maple has brownish or gray twigs with brown pointed buds.

What is killing all the elm trees? ›

Dutch elm disease is caused by two related species of fungi—Ophiostoma ulmi and the more aggressive of the two, Ophiostoma novo-ulmi, which is responsible for most of the devastation. This fungus attacks the tree's vascular system, preventing the proper flow of water and nutrients.

Are there any elm trees left in the US? ›

American elm trees are also known as water elms, soft elms, white elms, or Florida elms. They are found throughout eastern and central North America, and their range extends as far south as northern Texas and Florida.

What tree has the strongest roots? ›

Shepherd's tree (Boscia albitrunca), native to the Kalahari Desert, has the deepest documented roots: more than 70 meters, or 230 feet, deep. Their depth was discovered accidentally by drillers of groundwater wells. “Charles Darwin once wrote, in effect, that the tips of plant roots are like the brains of plants.

Do elm trees need a lot of water? ›

Care Guide for American elm

American elm prefers moist but well drained soils. It can adapt to both wet and dry conditions, but its growth may become stunted from a lack of or too much water. American elm does best in sites with medium moisture.

When should you not prune elm trees? ›

It affects American elms and kills individual branches, then eventually the entire tree over the course of one to several years. It can also spread to nearby trees. At Arbor Aesthetics, we strongly recommend NOT trimming your elm tree between April and October when the trees are leafing.

What bugs do elm trees attract? ›

Elm seed bugs or elm leaf beetles, as they are also called, prefer to feed on the leaves and seeds of the elm tree, making it difficult for the tree to survive. Elm seed bugs are also known as “acshlchthcus ulmi” or sometimes “sehirus aceris.”

Should elm trees be pruned? ›

Pruning is one of the most important ways we can help an elm tree.

What does a unhealthy elm tree look like? ›

The first symptom in infected trees usually appears as a small yellow or brown wilting area of foliage referred to as “flagging,” often starting at the edge of the crown. Wilting rapidly spreads inward toward the trunk. Leaves wilt, yellow, and eventually turn brown.

Why is Dutch elm disease so called? ›

Dutch elm disease (DED) was first observed in north-west Europe about 1910, caused by O. ulmi. It is called 'Dutch' elm disease because the fungus was first described by Dutch scientists, although it is believed to be of Asian origin.

What is the most disease resistant American Elm? ›

'Valley Forge' -- a cultivar isolated by the U.S. National Arboretum tree genetics program. This seems to be the most resistant cultivar isolated so far. It has the typical vase shape characteristic of American elms.

What eats elm leaves? ›

The elm leaf beetle, Xanthogaleruca (=Pyrrhalta) luteola, is a leaf-chewing pest of elm trees, especially European elm species. American and most Asian elm species are less severely fed upon. Most Chinese elm cultivars, zelkova, and many newer elm cultivars are infrequently fed upon.

What tree is similar to an elm tree? ›

With its tall, straight bole and open, umbrellalike crown, a mature black walnut often strongly resembles an American elm in its form. desired. Black walnuts are magnificent, slow-growing trees, but they are best known for the edible nuts and beautiful lumber that they produce.

How fast growing are elm trees? ›

With very little attention and care, your American Elm will grow 3-6 feet each year. From polluted urban neighborhoods with poor soil to pristine country landscapes, the American Elm survives.

How long does it take for an elm tree to grow to full size? ›

Growth Rate

Capable of adding 12 to 36 inches of height per season, the Chinese elm is a very rapidly growing tree. It can attain an eventual height of 40 to 50 feet, and so potentially can reach full height in 15 years or so.

How do you tell if it's an ash tree? ›

Identify ash trees
  1. Has branches that grow directly across from one another.
  2. Has compound leaves. (a group of leaflets joined by a stalk to a woody stem)
  3. Has five to many leaflets with smooth or finely toothed margins.

How do you tell if a tree is an ash? ›

Leaves. Ash leaves are pinnately compound. That means that the leaflets are arranged in rows on opposite sides of the central “stem” (rachis) of the leaf. White and green ash leaves typically have 5 to 9 leaflets, while blue ash typically has 7 to 11 leaflets.

How can you tell if you have an elm tree? ›

American elm is easily recognized by its vase-shaped habit, with one straight trunk splitting into many arching branches. The leaves are oval-shaped, dark green, rough to the touch and have a very asymmetrical base. Tiny flowers appear before the leaves small clusters of circular, winged seeds mature in spring.

How do I identify an elm tree? ›

Oval or egg-shaped with a pointed tip. The leaf has double-serrated leaf margins (meaning the 'teeth' have 'teeth'). The leaf base where it connects to the stem is asymmetrical. Elm leaves are dark green, up to 9 centimetres (3.5 inches) long and 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) wide.

What is special about ash trees? ›

Ash trees are special because they can restore natural systems. They readily colonize riparian areas where their roots help stabilize stream banks, their leaves feed both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and their branches provide shade and nesting sites for many animals.

Do ash trees have deep or shallow roots? ›

Green ashes can have a root spread of up to 30 feet, making them especially likely to take out a foundation if they are close to a home. Their water-seeking roots spread out to find moist and saturated soils, leaving them with the opportunity to seek the foundation for resources.

Are ashes good trees? ›

Using wood ash in home gardens can increase soil fertility and raise soil pH. What are the potential benefits of using wood ash? Wood ash contains nutrients that can be beneficial for plant growth. Calcium is the plant nutrient most commonly found in wood ash and may comprise 20% or more of its content.

What trees are mistaken for ash trees? ›

Several tree have bark that is easily confused with ash. Oak, Norway maple, and elm are commonly mistaken for ash when looking at bark textures.

Do elm trees have invasive roots? ›

American Elm (Ulmus americana) – The moisture-loving roots of American elms often invade sewer lines and drain pipes.

Are there any elm trees left in America? ›

American elm trees are also known as water elms, soft elms, white elms, or Florida elms. They are found throughout eastern and central North America, and their range extends as far south as northern Texas and Florida.

How long do elm trees live for? ›

In open-grown or sparse stands, the trees usually fork near the ground and form wide arching crowns. American elm is a long-lived species, often reaching 175 to 200 years, with some older than 300 years.


1. How to Identify an Ash Tree
(UKNOW How-to Videos)
3. Emerald Ash Borer Taking Over Ash Trees
(CTN Coon Rapids)
4. American or Red Elm identification
5. 12 Incredible Medicinal Trees and Their Uses To Super-Boost Your Health
(Natural Health Remedies)
6. Identifying Elm Wood
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