By Ralph E. Mitchell
Planted right in our own Centennial Park parking lot we have an often-under-utilized shade tree called the ‘Drake’ Chinese elm. While my first exposure to this tree was in Sarasota County, it is beginning show up in Charlotte County in urban settings. Hardy as far north as Zone 7B., this tree is listed all the way down to 10B, so it should do fine here. While most elms are deciduous, the ‘Drake’ is semi-evergreen to evergreen in our area. Is there a ‘Drake ‘in your future? It has some interesting features that may fit into your landscape.
Listed as fairly fast-growing, the ‘Drake’ Chinese elm can grow upwards to thirty-five to forty feet tall and wide, so it is not a huge tree. The dark-green serrated leaves are about two-inches long and arranged alternatively along the graceful, slightly weeping branches. There is some variability in the growth pattern which is typically vase shaped. However, some specimens appear to grow more horizontally than the norm. Bark on the mature tree has ornamental interest as it exfoliates with a mottled pattern of grey, green, orange and brown that gives this tree another name – lacebark elm.
The ’Drake’ is a cultivar that fits well into many settings including as a parking lot tree, a lawn tree or a general shade tree that tolerates urban conditions. Select a specimen that has been trained with a single trunk and several well-spaced branches to better tolerate wind. Trees that are under two-inches in caliper diameter will likely need to be staked until it is well-rooted to ensure stability – normally less than a year. Select a site that is well-drained as trunk cankers can develop in overly wet soils. ‘Drake’ elms do have well-developed, large root systems that have been known to lift sidewalks and invade sewer lines, so plan before you plant!
You will not likely find ‘Drake’ Chinese elm trees at local box-store garden centers. Check local or regional nurseries for availability. We have several pretty nice young specimens in our parking lot, so please feel free to visit them! Like all plants, assess your site before planting to make sure that a tree like this elm will fit and be sustainable on into the future. The ‘Drake’ may be a tree that will fit perfectly in your landscape – it is in fact another Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ recommended tree! For more information on all types of trees suitable for our area, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/ . Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2014) Ulmus parvifolia ‘Drake’: ‘Drake’ Chinese Elm. The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.