Plant Collector: Ulmus elegantissima “Jacqueline Hillier”

Ulmus (should that be elegantissima, minor or x hollandica?) "Jacqueline Hillier"

Ulmus (should that be elegantissima, minor or x hollandica?) "Jacqueline Hillier"

It’s an elm but from there on there seems to be some debate. We received it under the species classification of elegantissima. The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs lists it under the species name of minor with elegantissima added as a synonym. A quick net search and I see others now list it as Ulmus x hollandica which is a natural hybrid of minor and glabra. In other words, nobody knows for certain so we will stick with Hillier’s own classification.

The reason nobody knows for certain is that it was found in a garden in Birmingham in the early 1960s and it was visibly different. Most elms are renowned as handsome, large trees, though they have suffered hugely in the UK and Europe since the 1970s from a major outbreak of Dutch Elm disease which kills them. “Jacqueline Hillier” is smaller growing. In fact it came to us under the descriptor of dwarf. It has tiny, sawtooth leaves and very fine tracery of branch structure whereby the leaves are held in fan shapes. This means it is extremely attractive when it is a bare skeleton in winter. It is delightful when flushed with bright spring growth and it is lovely and lush in summer until the predations of the red spider sometimes defoliate it.

Dwarf it is not. I planted a specimen in our rockery where it set out to prove it belongs to the large shrub category. We have to keep working on it extensively every year to keep it down to about 3 metres x 3 metres. It also seeds and suckers but not in a dangerous way. Had I realised it would grow to that size, I would have planted it somewhere with more space – but I would definitely still have planted it.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.