Chinese Elm – Zelcova Schneideriana

Chinese Elm

  • Chinese Elm
  • Zelkova Schneideriana
  • Schneider’s Zelkova
  • Jumu (Southern Elm) in China
  • Elm Family Ulmaceae

In December of 2007, we learned of an unusual tree that was being removed from the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC.  It was a Chinese Elm (Zelkova Schneideriana) that had died.  The Raulston Arboretum had acquired this tree from the United States National Arboretum, who had obtained it from China in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s following World War 2.

Our first experience with the fresh cut wood was the bright red color and blood like droplets of liquid that appeared on the surface as the tree released water.  Turning the wood revealed the distinctive elm feathery grain pattern, and intense red heartwood that contrasted sharply with the creamy yellow sapwood.  The wood was dense, hard, and heavy.  We immediately rough turned a dozen bowls and impatiently waited a year for them to dry.  Upon finish turning them, we were ecstatic to discover what a special tree we had been honored to receive.  The finished bowls demand to be held with their smooth, rich finish and substantial weight.

Research turned up the following information about Z. Schneideriana:

“Southern Elm was a popular furniture-making wood in the Suzhou region. The sapwood is distinguished from the slightly darker heartwood, which varies in tonality from yellowish brown to coffee-brown. Jiangsu craftsmen traditionally divide jumu into three types: yellow ju (huangju), red ju (hongju), and blood ju (xueju). Factors including the age of the tree are thought to account for these variations in color. Blood ju, with a reddish-brown coffee color as well as some feathery like figure in the tangential surface, is the most highly prized.” 1

We believe we have the “Blood Ju” type based on the deep red color as well as the blood red water droplets that were released upon first cutting the wood.

Z. Schneideriana is native to southwest and eastern Asia.  It is rare in US cultivation, but is being considered as a potential replacement for the American Elm which has succumbed to the Dutch elm disease.

1Extract from Evarts, Curtis. C. L. Ma Collection: Traditional Furniture from the Greater Shanxi Region, 1999