The zelkova tree has beautiful gray peeling bark, huge ovate leaves with serrated margins, and a spreading, rounded or vase-shaped crown. It is a tall ornamental shade tree. In the spring, clusters of non-showy yellowish-green flowers appear on the broadleaf deciduous zelkova tree. The zelkova tree produces small green drupes when it blooms that mature to brown in the autumn.
The identification of zelkova tree species is covered in this article. Recognize these lovely trees in the landscape by learning about zelkova tree leaves, blossoms, and bark. You’ll also learn important advice for growing a zelkova tree in your yard.
Zelkova Tree Facts
The genus Zelkova belongs to the Ulmaceae family of deciduous trees. Six zelkova tree species and cultivars exist. The most frequent Zelkova serrata tree, which grows to 100 feet (30 meters) tall, is the most frequent. Yet, zelkova tree varieties are often smaller, ranging from 10 to 80 feet (3 to 24 meters) in height.
Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea are all home to the popular Zelkova serrata tree. The leafy ornamental tree, also known as Japanese zelkova, is named for this reason. The tree is also known as Japanese elm since it is related to elms.
In addition to being a popular bonsai tree, zelkova trees are lovely landscape trees. The tree’s characteristics make it suitable for bonsai cultivation. With a spreading oval crown and lovely foliage, it’s an appealing multi-stemmed tree.
Zelkova trees are tolerant of a variety of circumstances, which contributes to their popularity as bonsai trees. Because of its bushy green leaves, the shade tree is excellent as a street tree or decorative home tree. It thrives in urban settings. Drought, wind, and heat are also tolerant of the graceful zelkova tree. USDA zones 5 to 8 are suitable for Zelkova trees.
The zelkova tree has a variety of uses in addition to being an attractive decorative tree. It has economic value, for example, as a commercial timber tree in Japan. Moreover, furniture manufacturing and taiko drum building both make use of the tree’s timber. Growing an elm tree is also feasible with the Japanese zelkova tree. The zelkovas, like elm trees, grow at a fast pace. They are more hardy and resistant to Dutch elm disease.
Zelkova Tree Leaves
In the autumn, Zelkova leaves appear as ovate, oblong green leaves with serrated edges. The leaves are glossy and have a smooth finish. The serrated border has yellowish veins that run from the midrib to it. Zelkova leaves have a tapered tip and grow up to 3″ (7.5 cm) long. Green, ovate zelkova leaves turn rich hues of copper, yellow, orange, and red before falling in late autumn. In the autumn, zelkova trees’ rapid development makes them stand out as landscape trees.
Zelkova Tree Flowers
Green-yellow blooms hang in tangled clusters from a zelkova tree. The flower clusters bloom in the spring and last through the summer, and they are described as “non-showy” or insignificant. The stamen clusters that grow on new stems make up the Zelkova flowers, which do not have petals.
Zelkova Tree Fruit
In the summer after blooming, Zelkova tree fruit is a tiny drupe that looks green. Two little white beaks develop from the tiny ovoid or triangular fruits. The green fruit of the nut gradually darkens as it ripens.
Zelkova Tree Bark
The bark of a young tree (left) and an older tree (right) is both appealing. The reddish-brown zelkova tree bark is mealy on the upper surfaces. The cherry-like bark with prominent horizontal streaks known as lenticels distinguishes a zelkova tree. The bark becomes gray and exfoliates as the tree matures. The orange inner bark of the peeling bark adds to the tree’s appeal.
Zelkova Tree Identification
The short central trunk and spreading branches of a zelkova tree create a vase-shaped crown, which can be used to identify it. The peeling bark of zelkovas is grayish-white, and the inner flesh is light orange. In the fall, large green serrated ovate leaves turn red, orange, and yellow. The tree bears yellowish flower clusters and drupes that look like nuts.
Types of Zelkova Trees (with Pictures) – Identification
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular zelkova tree types.
Zelkova serrata (Japanese Zelkova)
The Zelkova serrata tree is a 50 to 80-foot (15 to 24-meter) tall and broad tree with a graceful form that blooms in autumn. Large serrated oblong leaves that taper to a point, cherry-like bark that maturizes to a gray color, and tiny drupes distinguish the deciduous zelkova landscape tree.
The vase-shaped habit of the Zelkova serrata is an identifying characteristic. Branches develop out from the trunk, forming a thick canopy with a rounded summit. They begin low on the tree. When young, the tree grows at a rapid pace. After a few years, growth slows, and zelkovas are classified as slow-growing trees.
One of the appealing aspects of Zelkova serrata’s development is the lance-shaped leaves. The serrated edges of the large 3″ (7.5 cm) green leaves are tapered. The ends of petioles that are 0.2 inch (5 mm) long produce medium to dark green leaves. From the center of each leaf, veins run parallel to the midrib and terminate in a tooth.
The attractive gray and orange color of Zelkova serrata bark is well-known. The bark of immature Japanese elms is reddish-brown, but as it ages, it turns gray or grayish-brown. Peeling of the bark reveals patches of orange inner bark due to its exfoliating nature. The zelkova’s bark takes on a cherry tree-like appearance due to its growth habit.
The Zelkova serrata thrives in USDA 5 through 8 as a specimen tree, lawn tree, or garden shade tree. Full sun and rich, moist, well-drained soils are ideal for the Japanese zelkova. When established, the tree is drought tolerant, especially in thick soil. The Japanese zelkova grows well in urban areas because it has significant resistance to airborne pollutants.
The flowers of Zelkova serrata, while being a flowering tree, are tiny. In the spring, small groups of green or yellow blossoms with fresh foliage appear. Nonetheless, the fall is the busiest season for the tree, when its brilliant leaves create gorgeous autumn displays. Dark red, reddish-purple, golden yellow, and orange hues develop on the lanceolate medium-green leaves.
Zelkova serrata produces drupes in the shape of tiny nut-like nuts during the fall. The drupes are 0.23″ (6 mm) in diameter and have a small kidney shape. Once the tree has finished blooming, they appear green in the summer. The roundish drupes turn brown when the zelkova fruits have ripened in the fall.
The resistance of Japanese zelkova to Dutch elm disease is one of the advantages. The Zelkova serrata is a excellent substitute for American elm (Ulmus americana) trees in many parts of the world. The Japanese beetle and elm leaf beetle have very little effect on hardy trees.
During the growing season, some variegated Zelkova serrata cultivars feature lovely foliage. Variegated leaves with green centers and creamy white or yellow borders may be seen on the zelkova varieties ‘Fuiri Keyaki,’ ‘Goshki,’ and so on.
Zelkova leaves: The lanceolate leaves of the Japanese elm have serrated edges and acuminate (tapered) tips. Yellowish veins run parallel to the midrib and terminate at the blade margins in one of two ways: in a pointed tip or a blunt end. From the petiole to the apex, the leaves are 3″ (7.5 cm) long and 3″ (7.5 cm) broad at their broadest point.
Zelkova identification: A Japanese zelkova tree has a short trunk with many spreading branches that grow in a vase shape with a spherical canopy. The mid-green lance-shaped leaves create a thick carpet of foliage on the tree. Cherry-like gray bark with prominent lenticels distinguishes Zelkova serrata trees.
Zelkova serrata ‘Village Green’
A tall deciduous shade tree with thick foliage and a vase-shaped habit, the Zelkova serrata ‘Village Green’ is a popular cultivar. The attractive peeling bark of this zelkova cultivar, which is grayish-brown and exfoliates to expose light orange patches, is what distinguishes it. The dark green leaves of the big tree are lanceolate with rough borders and pointed tips.
In residential landscapes as an ornamental, shade, or specimen tree, the bark of a young Zelkova serrata ‘Village Green’ tree is ideal. The ‘Village Green,’ with its upward-branching crown and lovely form, grows between 50 and 60 feet (15 and 18 meters) with a similar spread.
Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’
The Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’ is a tall, decorative Japanese elm tree with green bark. The smooth whitish-gray bark, with tiny horizontal ridges (lenticels), a slender stem, and a narrow, spreading vase-shaped crown are all distinguishing characteristics of the “Green Vase” cultivar. Dark green lanceolate leaves with light green undersides and serrated edges make up the dense foliage of the tree.
The zelkova grows to be 60 to 80 feet (18 to 24 meters) tall with a spread of 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters). In the fall, the attractive lance-shaped leaves with their coarse serration give way to rich orange-bronze hues. The height and form of the cultivars differ.
With a narrower, upward-spreading crown, the zelkova known as the ‘Green Vase’ is somewhat taller than the zelkova known as the ‘Village Green. In addition, the ‘Green Vase’ has a lower tolerance for colder climates than the ‘Village Green.’
Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’
A tall columnar Japanese elm with a narrow vase-shaped habit, the Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’ is ideal for container growing. Little, ovate green leaves with serrated edges and a smooth grayish bark cover a straight, slender stem identify the zelkova tree as the ‘Musashino.’
Zelkova abelicea (Cretan Zelkova)
The Cretan zelkova (Zelkova Abelicea) is a 33–49 foot (10–15 m) tall decorative tree that grows in Crete. With a thick crown of little green oval leaves with slightly serrated borders, the multi-stemmed tree has a shrubby look. Flower clusters of the zelkova produce a pleasant fragrance and are therefore easily recognized.
The Zelkova abelicea, which is native to Crete and endangered in the wild, is named after its common name. Littleer shrub-like zelkova abelica trees with dwarf growth of only 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters) tall are common on the Greek island of Crete due to goat and sheep overgrazing. Suckers that develop around the main stem are commonly used to reproduce the tree.
Zelkova carpinifolia (Caucasian Zelkova)
The Caucasian zelkova has a distinctive vase shape, upward-spreading branches, and a short central trunk. It is mid to big in size and grows in the Caucasus Mountains. Large lance-shaped leaves with serrated edges, tiny green flowers, and smooth grayish bark are all identifying characteristics of the Zelkova carpinifolia. The zelkova tree grows to be 66 to 115 feet (20 to 35 meters) tall.
The biggest leaves of the Zelkova genus are those of Zelkova carpinifolia. 1.6” – 4″ (4 – 10 cm) long and up to 2.4″ (6 cm) broad, the pointed ovate leaves are 1.6″ – 4″. The leaf has a blunt serrated border with seven to 12 teeth. This is another identifying feature.
How to Plant Zelkova Tree
In residential gardens, Zelkova serrata is a common shade tree. It’s important to choose a suitable location to plant a zelkova tree because it has a large spread of up to 80 feet (24 meters). There are, however, beautiful dwarf or small ornamental trees available under the name Zelkova serrata.
Select the brightest location in your garden with rich dirt and adequate drainage to plant a Japanese zelkova tree. Dig a hole twice as big as the root ball’s depth. Work in enough compost to the soil to ensure proper development. Zelkova trees, on the other hand, adapt to a wide range of soil conditions.
Plant the zelkova tree so that its root collar, which is where the roots spread out from their starting point, is barely visible. Next, fill in the hole with compost-amended soil. To eliminate air pockets, keep pressing down the soil. Water the young zelkova thoroughly after that.
Keep the ground moist when caring for a zelkova tree. Zelkova trees thrive on infrequent, deep watering during dry summers, despite their drought-tolerant nature. For healthy growth, this low-maintenance tree requires no additional fertilizer. Bark mulch applied around the root zone of plants helps retain moisture and supply nutrients.
The smooth, reddish-brown skin with cherry-like lenticels turns grayish-brown as the zelkova develops, while the peeling skin reveals an orange inner skin.