Spanish elm or Salmwood is a timber and honey tree native to tropical America, its natural range extending from Mexico, through Panama and the Caribbean, to northern parts of South America.
It is highly variable in its flowering habit, timber quality and climate adaptation, as revealed in African trials using propagation material sourced from different areas within its native range. Based on these trials, the most promising selections for high-value timber come from seasonally dry regions.
It may attain a height of up to 40 m (130 ft) in forests habitats, though it is more commonly 15 to 20 m (50 to 65 ft) tall on open sites and develops a slim, straight trunk, sometimes with a small buttress on large trees supporting a compact crown.
Leaves are oblong or elongated oval, 15 to 18 cm (6 to 7 in) long, thin, yellow-green and slightly glossy on top, paler and finely haired underneath. They give off a smell of garlic when crushed and are semi-evergreen to deciduous, with leaf-fall in the dry season followed by new leaf growth in the rainy season.
Flowers are creamy-white and small but sweetly fragrant and showy when abundant. Flowering is induced by short days, with blooms in late autumn, winter, and early spring in most tropical regions. The flowers open at night to be pollinated by nocturnal insects.
Fruit develop and mature with the flower petals intact, which later dry and become papery wings that aid seed dispersal.
Spanish elm produces a medium-weight wood, averaging 600 kilograms per cubic meter, with moderate to high natural resistance to rot and decay. This puts it in the moderately durable hardwood category, fit for indoor and outdoor use. The heartwood is pale green- to olive-brown with dark streaking, becoming pale golden-brown to brown on exposure and is fairly easy to work.
The logs are sawn into beams and planks used in light construction, interior joinery, flooring and for making furniture and cabinets. Selected logs are sliced for decorative veneer or are used for manufacturing plywood. The small-diameter roundwood and branchwood pieces are used mostly for making charcoal.
Spanish Elm is a major nectar source for honeybees in Belize and a moderate to minor source in the Dominican Republic and Trinidad, with honey production averaging around 165 lbs (75 kg) per colony per season.
In its native range, it is sometimes planted to shade coffee (Coffea arabica) because of its fast growth and light, open branching habit, allowing sunlight to filter through the canopy. It is also commonly cultivated as an ornamental because of the showy display of its white flowers in winter.
It grows naturally in humid tropical lowland to mid-elevation climates, generally in frost-free areas with annual lows of 16 to 25°C, annual highs of 26 to 35°C, annual rainfall of 1200 to 3500 mm and a dry season of 5 months or less. Trees reach their best development in areas with annual rainfall of 1800 mm or more.
New plants are usually started from seed, which lose their viability quickly and should be sown soon after extracting from the fruit. They can be kept for longer under cold, dry, air-tight conditions. Performs best on free-draining clay and loam soils of a slightly acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 6.5 to 8.0, and on sites with full sun exposure. It is intolerant of saturated soils and shade conditions.
Spanish elm is listed as a weed in at least one reference publication. It is a major weed in Tonga and Vanuatu, in the Pacific. A successful coloniser of disturbed sites, it produces many wind-dispersed seed that can travel afar and germinate readily.
It is also known for having vigorous roots, surface roots, particularly on shallow soils, and for sending up root suckers.
Adams, C. D. 1972, Flowering plants of Jamaica, University of the West Indies, Mona, Greater Kingston
Bradbear, N. 2009, Bees and their role in forest livelihoods : a guide to the services provided by bees and the sustainable harvesting, processing and marketing of their products, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome
Burns R.M., Mosquera M.S. & Whitmone J.L. 1998, Useful trees of the tropical region of North America, North American Forestry Commission Publication (Number 3), Washington D.C.
Burns, R.M. & Honkala, B.H. 1990, Silvics of North America (Volume 2) : Hardwoods, Agricultural Handbook 654, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.
Chudnoff, M. 1984, Tropical timbers of the world, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington, D.C.
Crane, E., Walker, P. & Day, R. 1984, Directory of important world honey sources, International Bee Research Association, London
Echenique-Manrique, R. & Plumptre, R. A. 1990, A guide to the use of Mexican and Belizean timbers, Oxford Forestry Institute, Deptment of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxfordshire
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 1993. Timber Plantations in the Humid Tropics of Africa. Forestry Paper 98.
Francis, J. K. 1998, Tree species for planting in forest, rural, and urban areas of Puerto Rico, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Río Piedras, Puerto Rico
Francis, J. K. et al. 2000, Silvics of Native and Exotic Trees of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands, Technical Report IITF-15, USDA Forest Service, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Gargiullo, M. B & Magnuson, B. L. & Kimball, Larry D. 2008, A field guide to plants of Costa Rica, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Liegel, L. H. 1987. A technical guide for forest nursery management in the Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, New Orleans
Little, E. L. et al. 1964 and 1974, Common trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (2 volumes), Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.
Martin, F. M., et al. 1987, Perennial edible fruits of the tropics : an inventory, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, D.C.
Nair, P. K. R. 1993, An introduction to agroforestry, International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht
Porter, T. 2012, Wood : identification & use, Compact edition, Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, Lewes, East Sussex
Randall, R. P. 2002, A global compendium of weeds, R.G. and F.J. Richardson Press, Melbourne
Randall, R. P. 2007, The introduced flora of Australia and its weed status, Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, Glen Osmond, South Australia
Record, S. J. & Hess, R. W., 1972, Timbers of the New World, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut & Arno Press, New York
Reyes, G. 1992, Wood densities of tropical tree species, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, New Orleans, Louisiana
Scheffer, T. C & Morrell, J. J. 1998, Natural durability of wood : a worldwide checklist of species, Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
Vozzo, J. A 2002, Tropical tree seed manual, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service, Washington D.C.
Webb, D. B. 1984, A Guide to species selection for tropical and sub-tropical plantations, 2nd ed., Unit of Tropical Silviculture, Commonwealth Forestry Institute, University of Oxford, Oxfordshire
Whitesell, C. D. & Walters, G. A. 1976, Species adaptability trials for man-made forests in Hawaii. Research Paper PSW-RP-118, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Hawaii
This website is provided for general information only. Iplantz makes no statements, representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this website and does not accept any liability to you or any other person for the information which is provided or referred to on this website.
In particular, Iplantz does not represent or warrant that any dataset or the data it contains is accurate, authentic or complete, or suitable for your needs. Changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact the accuracy of datasets and their contents.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, Iplantz accepts no liability whatsoever to any person arising from or connected with the use of or reliance on any information or advice provided on this website or incorporated into it by reference, including any dataset or data it contains. No responsibility is taken for any information or services that may appear on any linked websites.