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Wych Elm ... Ulmus glabra ... Leamhán sléibhe

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James Kilkelly
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 1:33 am    Post subject: Wych Elm ... Ulmus glabra ... Leamhán sléibhe Reply with quote

Wych Elm ... Ulmus glabra ... Leamhán sléibhe
by GPI

. Wych Elm tree, leaf and seed, photo / pic / image.

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Rosales
Family: Ulmaceae
Genus: Ulmus
Species: U. glabra

What does the "Wych" mean?
Our only native elm is the deciduous Ulmus glabra, otherwise known as the Wych elm. This common name, Wych, is quite often mistakenly associated with a mean old hag who practises the black arts. The name 'Wych' actually means pliant, for proof of this we just have to look at the past uses of the wood. Take for example, when we were "visited" by the Vikings, their best and possibly most accurate bows were made from elm wood, as were the ladders they used for access to the natives higher hiding points. Aside from invasion material, elm wood was put to good use in the manufacture of furniture particularly chairs, even its inner bark was used for the chairs caning.

Further elm wood uses and legends.
Elm wood also possesses great resistance to water, sections of the tree were often hollowed out for the manufacture of primitive, but effective water pipes. Testament to the woods water resistance was the modern day discovery of a 17th century water supply system dug up in London. It was virtually intact and ready for water. This strength in the face of dampness also caused Elm to be used in the creation of coffins. Connections with coffins and death run very deep with Wych elm, the Celts believed the tree was a protector of burial areas, aiding the dead souls passage to the underworld.

What happened to all the Irish Wych elms?
Now I know many of you reading this may have never even seen an elm tree. Well, there are very good reasons for this. Although once very common throughout the spreading woodlands and hedgerows of this isle, the Wych elm population was reduced by man, who required the trees preferred fertile soils for his crops and animals. But it was not just man that reduced elm numbers in Ireland. The other culprit was the fungus Ceratocystis ulmi, aka Dutch elm disease. This fatal disease, which is still with us, was first seen in this country around 1958. It was thought to have been spread by a burrowing bark beetle entering on a shipment of logs from America.

View a large Irish Wych elm.
Although our Wych is one of the least affected elms by the disease, we can be quite sure the illness took away its fair share of our elms. So, both man and fungus have left Ireland with very few mature elms, our nearest large elm of note being located at the Franciscan Priory, Ards, Cresslough Co. Donegal. That specimen stood 21 metres tall at last measuring.

How to know which is a Wych.
If you would like to go on a search for the lost elm of Ireland, look out for the following...
Our elms have soft stubble across their green leaves, combined with 12 to 18 pairs of veins terminating in a serrated leaf edge.
Flowering takes place from February to March, with drooping clusters of purple and green flowers appearing before the ribbed leaves.
The following seeds, which ripen from May to June, resemble papery discs with a central embedded seed.

. Wych Elm flower, photo / pic / image.

Growing information at a glance.
Grows at a moderate rate.
Expected height: 40m / Expected spread: 40m in over 50 years
Grow in full sun or partial shade
Tolerant of most soils but prefers a well-drained soil.
Flowers are drooping clusters of purple and green, with Green fruit in Summer and Autumn
Main pests are Aphids, Leafhoppers and Gall mites.
Main disease is Dutch elm disease.

Other interesting Wych Elm facts.
It is estimated that the Wych Elm in Ireland provides support in the form of habitation and food for 82 different insect species.

Chart shows approximate distribution of the native tree within Ireland, each dot is a 10km square in which the species grows.

Research more in your own time......

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