Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Of The Elm

( Originally Published Late 1800's )



1. Ulmus the elm, there are four or five sorts, and from the difference of the soil and air divers spurious : Two of these kinds are most worthy our culture, the vulgar, viz. the mountain elm, which is taken to be the oriptelea of Theophrastus ; being of a less jagged and smaller leaf ; and the vernacula or French elm, whose leaves are thicker, and more florid, glabrous and smooth, delighting in the lower and moister grounds, where they will sometimes rise to above an hundred foot in height, and a prodigious growth, in less than an age ; my self having seen one planted by the hand of a Countess living not long since, which was near 12 foot in compass, and of an height proportionable ; notwithstanding the numerous progeny which grew under the shade of it, some whereof were at least a foot in diameter, that for want of being seasonably transplanted, must needs have hindered the procerity of their ample and indulgent mother : I am persuaded some of these were viviradices, & traduces, produc'd of the falling seeds.

2. For though both these sorts are rais'd of append-ices, or suckers (as anon we shall describe) yet this latter comes well from the samera or seeds, and therefore I suppose it to be the ancient atimia, for such an elm they acknowledge to be rais'd of seeds, which being ripe about the beginning of March (though frequently not till the following month) will produce them ; as we might have seen abundantly in the gardens of the Thuilleries, and that of Luxembourgh at Paris, where they usually sow themselves, and come up very thick ; and so do they in many places of our country, tho' so seldom taken notice of, as that it is esteemed a fable, by the less observant and ignorant vulgar ; let it therefore be tried in season, by turning and raking some fine earth, often refreshed, under some amply spreading tree, or to raise them of their seeds (being well dried a day or two before) sprinkled on beds prepar'd of good loamy fresh earth, and sifting some of the finest mould thinly over them, and watering them when need requires. Being risen (which may be within 4 or 5 months) an inch above ground (refreshed, and preserved from the scraping of birds and poultry) comfort the tender seedlings by a second sifting of more fine earth, to establish them ; thus keep them clean weeded for the first two years, and cleansing the side-boughs ; or till being of fitting stature to remove into a nursery at wider intervals, and even rows, you may thin and transplant them in the same manner as you were directed for young oaks ; only they shall not need above one cutting, where they grow less regular and hopeful. But because this is an experiment of some curiosity, obnoxious to many casualties, and that the producing them from the mother-roots of greater trees is very facile and expeditious (besides the numbers which are to be found in the hedge-rows and woods, of all plantable sizes) I rather advise our forester to furnish himself from those places.

3. The suckers which I speak of, are produced in abundance from the roots, whence, being dextrously separated, after the earth has been well loosened, and planted about the end of October, they will grow very well : Nay, the stubs only, which are left in the ground after a felling (being fenced in as far as the roots extend) will furnish you with plenty, which may be transplanted from the first year or two, successively, by slipping them from the roots, which will continually supply you for many years, after that the body of the mother-tree has been cut down : Aud from hence probably is sprung that (I fear) mistake of Salmasius and others, where they write of the growing of their chips (I suppose having some of the bark on) scattered in hewing of their timber ; the error proceeding from this, that after an elm-tree has been fell'd, the numerous suckers which shoot from the remainders of the latent roots, seem to be produced from this dispersion of the chips: Let this yet be more accurately examined; for I pronounce nothing magisterially, since it is so confidently reported.

4. I have known stakes sharpned at the ends for other purposes, take root familiarly in moist grounds, and become trees ; and divers have essay'd with extraordinary success the trunchions of the boughs and arms of elms cut to the scantling of a man's arm, about an ell in length. These must be chopp'd on each side opposite, and laid into trenches about half a foot deep, covered about two or three fingers deep with good mould. The season for this work is towards the exit of January, or early in February, if the frosts impede not ; and after the first year, you may cut, or saw the trunchions off in as many places as you find cause, and as the shoots and rooted sprouts will direct you for transplantation. Another expedient for the propagation of elms is this : Let trenches be sunk at a good distance (viz. twenty or thirty yards) from such trees as stand in hedge-rows, and in such order as you desire your elms should grow ; where these gutters are, many young elms will spring from the small roots of the adjoining trees. Divide (after one year) the shoots from their mother-roots (which you may dextrously do with a sharp spade) and these transplanted, will prove good trees without any damage to their progenitors. Or do thus, lop a young elm, the lop being about three years growth, do it in the latter end of March, when the sap begins to creep up into the boughs, and the buds ready to break out ; cut the boughs into lengths of four foot slanting, leaving the knot where the bud seems to put forth in the middle : Inter these short pieces in trenches of three or four inches deep, and in good mould well trodden, and they will infallibly produce you a crop ; for even the smallest suckers of elms will grow, being set when the sap is newly stirring in them. There is yet a fourth way no less expeditious, and frequently confirmed with excellent success : Bare some of the master-roots of a vigorous tree within a foot of the trunk, or there abouts, and with your axe make several chops, putting a small stone into every cleft, to hinder their closure, and give access to the wet ; then cover them with three or four inch-thick of earth ; and thus they will send forth suckers in abundance, (I assure you one single elm thus well ordered, is a fair nursery) which after two or three years, you may separate and plant in the Ulmarium, or place designed for them ; and which if it be in plumps (as they call them) within ten or twelve foot of each other, or in hedge-rows, it will be the better : For the elm is a tree of consort, sociable, and so affecting to grow in company, that the very best which I have ever seen, do almost touch one another : This also protects them from the winds, and causes them to shoot of an extraordinary height ; so as in little more than forty years, they even arrive to a load of timber ; provided they be sedulously and carefully cultivated, and the soil propitious. For an elm does not thrive so well in the forest, as where it may enjoy scope for the roots to dilate and spread at the sides, as in hedge-rows and avenues, where they have the air likewise free : Note, that they spring abundantly by layers also.

5. There is besides these sorts we have named, one of a more scabrous harsh leaf, but very large, which becomes an huge tree, (frequent in the northern counties) and is distinguished by the name of the witch-hazle in our Statute Books, as serving formerly to make long bowes of ; but the timber is not so good as the first more vulgar ; but the bark at time of year, will serve to make a course bast-rope with.

6. Of all the trees which grow in our woods, there is none which does better suffer the transplantation than the elm ; for you may remove a tree of twenty years growth with undoubted success : It is an experiment I have made in a tree almost as big more as my waste ; but then you must totally disbranch him, leaving only the summit intire ; and being careful to take him up with as much earth as you can, refresh him with abundance of water. This is an excellent, and expeditious way for great persons to plant the accesses of their houses with ; for being disposed at sixteen or eighteen foot interval, they will in a few years bear goodly heads, and thrive to admiration. Some that are very cautious, emplaster the wounds of such over-grown elms with a mixture of clay and horse-dung, bound about them with a wisp of hay or fine moss, and I do not reprove it, provided they take care to temper it well, so as the vermine nestle not in it. But for more ordinary plantations, younger trees, which have their bark smooth and tender, clear of wenns and tuberous bunches (for those of that sort seldom come to be stately trees) about the scantling of your leg, and their heads trimm'd at five or six foot height, are to be prefer'd before all other. Cato would have none of these sorts of trees to be removed till they are five or six fingers in diameter ; others think they cannot take them too young; but experience (the best mistress) tells us, that you can hardly plant an elm too big. There are who pare away the root within two fingers of the stem, and quite cut off the head ; but I cannot commend this extream severity, no more than I do the strewing of oats in the pit; which fermenting with the moisture and frequent waterings, is believed much to accelerate the putting forth of the roots ; not considering, that for want of air they corrupt and grow musty, which more frequently suffocates the roots, and endangers the whole tree.

7. I have affirmed how patient this tree is of transplantation ; not only for that I observe so few of them to grow wild in England, and where it may not be suspected, but they or their predecessors have been planted by some industrious hand ; but for that those incomparable walks and vistas of them, both at Aranjuez, Casal del Campo, Madrid, the Escurial, and other places of delight, belonging to the King and Grandees of Spain, are planted with such as they report Philip the second caused to be brought out of England ; before which (as that most honourable person the Earl of Sandwich, when his Majesty's Ambassador Extraordinary at that Court writ to me) it does not appear there were any of those trees in all Spain. But of that plantation, see it more particularly describ'd in the Eighth Chapter, Book I I I of this Discourse, whither I refer my reader : Whilst (as to my own inclination) I know of no tree amongst all the foresters, becoming the almost interminat lontananza of walks and vistas, comparable to this majestick plant.

8. The elm delights in a sound, sweet, and fertile land, something more inclined to loamy moisture, and where good pasture is produced ; though it will also prosper in the gravelly, provided there be a competent depth of mould, and be refreshed with springs ; in defect of which, being planted on the very surface of the ground (the swarth par'd first away, and the earth stirred a foot deep or more) they will undoubtedly succeed ; but in this trial, let the roots be handsomly spread, and covered a foot or more in height; and above all, firmly staked. This is practicable also for other trees, where the soil is over-moist or unkind : For as the elm does not thrive in too dry, sandy, or hot grounds, no more will it abide the cold and spungy ; but in places that are competently fertile, or a little elevated from these annoyances ; as we see in the mounds, and casting up of ditches, upon whose banks the female sort does more naturally delight ; though it seems to be so much more addicted to some places than to others, that I have frequently doubted, whether it be a pure indigene or translatitious ;

Ut viror est ulmo laetus, ramique comantes,

Arduus, alta peters & levi cortice truncus.

Ulmum adhibe ordinibus, quoties sudenda per hortum,

Stint serie spatia ingenti, texendaque totis

AEstivos contra soles umbracula campis

Una alias inter texendis aptior ulmus

Marginibus spatiorum, exornandoque vireto

Seque adeo series, plano super aequore, tendat

Ulmorum tractu longo : quantum ipsa tuentum

Lumina, vel gressus valeant lustrare sequentum.

Rapt nus.

and not only because I have hardly ever known any considerable woods of them (besides some few nurseries near Cambridge, planted I suppose for store) but almost continually in tufts, hedge-rows, and mounds; and that Shropshire, and several other counties, and rarely any beyond Stamford to Durham, have any growing in many miles together : Indeed Camden mentions a place in Yorkshire call'd Elmet ; and V. Bede, Eccl. Hist. 1. I l. c. 14. (speaking of a fire hap'ning there, and describing of the harm it did thereabout, ulmarium or ulmetum) evasit autem ignem altare, quia lapidium erat, & servatur adhuc in monasterio r. abbatis & preshyteri thrythwuelf, quod in syl va elmete est; but neither does this speak it miraculous, (for the altar it seems was stone) or that the elms grew spontaneously. In the mean time, some affirm they were first brought out of Lombardy, where indeed I have observ'd very goodly trees about the rich grounds, with pines among them, vitelus almi ; for I hear of none either in Saxony or Denmark, nor in France, (growing wild) who all came and prey'd upon us after the Romans. But leaving this to the learned.

9. The elm is by reason of its aspiring and tapering growth, (unless it be topped to enlarge the branches, and make them spread low) the least offensive to corn and pasture-grounds ; to both which, and the cattel, they afford a benign shade, defence, and agreeable ornament: But then as to pastures, the wand'ring roots (apt to infect the fields and grass with innumerable suckers) the leading mother-root ought to be quite separated on that part, and the suckers irradicated. The like should be done where they are placed near walks of turf or gravel.

10. It would be planted as shallow as might be ; for, as we noted, deep interring of roots is amongst the catholick mistakes ; and of this, the greatest to which trees are obnoxious. Let new-planted elms be kept moist by frequent refreshings upon some half-rotten fern, or litter laid about the foot of the stem ; the earth a little stirred and depressed for the better reception and retention of the water.

11. Lastly, your plantation must above all things be carefully preserved from cattel and the concussions of impetuous winds, till they are out of reach of the one, and sturdy enough to encounter the other.

12. When you lop the side-boughs of an elm (which may be about January for the fire, and more frequently, if you desire to have them tall ; or that you would form them into hedges, for so they may be kept plashed, and thickned to the highest twig ; affording both a magnificent and august defence against the winds and sun) I say, when you trim them, be careful to indulge the tops ; for they protect the body of your trees from the wet, which always invades those parts first, and will in time perish them to the very heart ; so as elms beginning thus to decay, are not long prosperous. Sir Hugh Plat relates (as from an expert carpenter) that the boughs and branches of an elm should be left a foot long next the trunk when they are lopp'd ; but this is to my certain observation, a very great mistake either in the relator, or author ; for I have noted many elms so disbranched, that the remaining stubs grew immediately hollow, and were as so many conduits or pipes, to hold, and convey the rain to the very body and heart of the tree.

13. There was a cloyster of the right French elm in the little garden near to Her Majesty's the Queen-Mother's Chappel at Somerset-House, which were (I suppose) planted there, by the industry of the F. F. Capuchines, that would have directed you to the incomparable use of this noble tree for shade and delight, into whatever figure you will accustom them. I have my self procured some of them from Paris, but they were so abused in the transportation, that they all perished save one, which now flourishes with me: I have also lately graffed elms to a great improvement of their heads. Virgil tells us they will join in marriage with the oak, and they would both be tryed ; and that with the more probable success, for such lignous kinds, if you graff under the earth, upon, or near the very root it self, which is likely to entertain the cyon better than when more exposed, till it be well fixt, and have made some considerable progress.

14. When you would fell, let the sap be perfectly in repose ; as 'tis commonly about November or December, even to February, after the frost hath well nipp'd them : I have already alledged my reason for it ; and I am told, that both oak and elm so cut, the very saplings (whereof rafters, spars, &c. are made) will continue as Iong as the very heart of the tree, without decay. In this work, cut your kerfe near to the ground ; but have a care that it suffer not in the fall, and be ruined with its own weight: This depends upon your wood-man's judgment in disbranching, and is a necessary caution to the felling of all other timber-trees. If any begin to doat, pick out such for the axe, and rather trust to its successor. And if cutting over-late, by floating them 2 or 3 months in the water, it prevents the worm, and proves the best of seasons.

15. Elm is a timber of most singular use ; especially where it may lie continually dry, or wet, in extrcams ; therefore proper for water-works, mills, the ladles, and soles of the wheel, pipes, pumps, aqua-ducts, pales, ship-planks beneath the water-line ; and some that has been found buried in bogs has turned like the most polish'd and hardest ebony, only discerned by the grain : Also for wheel-wrights, handles for the single hand-saw, rails and gates made of elm (thin sawed) is not so apt to rive as oak : The knotty for naves, hubs ; the straight and smooth for axle-trees, and the very roots for curiously dappled works, scarce has any superior for kerbs of coppers, featheridge, and weather-boards, (but it does not without difficulty, admit the nail without boreing) chopping-blocks, blocks for the hat-maker, trunks, and boxes to be covered with leather ; coffins, for dressers and shovel-board-tables of great length, and a lustrous colour if rightly seasoned; also for the carver, by reason of the tenor of the grain, and toughness which fits it for all those curious works of frutages, foliage, shields, statues, and most of the ornaments appertaining to the orders of architecture, and for not being much subject to warping ; I find that of old they used it even for hinges and hooks of doors ; but then, that part of the plank which grew towards the top of the tree, was in work to be always reversed ; and for that it is not so subject to rift ; Vitruvius commends it both for tenons and mortaises: But besides these, and sundry other employments, it makes also the second sort of charcoal ; and finally, (which I must not omit) the use of the very leaves of this tree, especially of the female, is not to he despis'd ; for being suffered to dry in the sun upon the branches, and the spray strip'd off about the decrease in August (as also where the suckers and stolones are super-numerary, and hinder the thriving of their nurses) they will prove a great relief to cattel in winter, and scorching summers, when hay and fodder is dear they will eat them before oats, and thrive exceedingly well with them ; remember only to lay your boughs up in some dry and sweet corner of your barn : It was for this the poet prais'd them, and the epithet was advis'd,

In some parts of Herefordshire they gather them in sacks for their swine, and other cattel, according to this husbandry. But I hear an ill report of them for bees, that surfeiting of the blooming seeds, they are obnoxious to the lask, at their first going abroad in spring, which endangers whole stocks, if remedies be not timely adhibited ; therefore 'tis said in great elm countries they do not thrive ; but the truth of which I am yet to learn_ The green leaf of the elms contused, heals a green wound or cut, and boiled with the bark, consolidates fractur'd bones. All the parts of this tree are abstersive, and therefore sovereign for the consolidating wounds ; and asswage the pains of the gout : But the bark decocted in common water, to almost the consistence of a syrup, adding a third part of aqua vitae, is a most admirable remedy for the ischiadicae or hip-pain, the place being well rubb'd and chaf'd by the fire. Other wonderful cures perform'd by the liquor, &c. of this tree, see Mr. Ray's History of Plants, lib. xxv. cap. I. sect. 5. and for other species of the elm, his Supplement, tom. In. ad cap. De Ulmo. tom. II. p. 1428.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com