Elm trees (Ulmus spp.) contribute beauty and diversity to landscapes in the British Isles. There are four elm species whose leaves are eaten by several species of butterfly larvae. One of those butterflies is the White Letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) for which elm leaves are the primary source of food. Other invertebrates eat elms, too, and lichens grow on the bark. For centuries elm wood was valued for its resistance to water, making it an ideal material for canal locks and for cartwheels.
But elms aren’t common here now. It’s rare to see a mature elm tree. The elms aren’t extinct but most of them don’t grow past the sapling stage because they’re killed by Dutch Elm Disease (DED). Fungi (Ophiostoma spp.), spread by bark beetles, cause the ironically named DED.
DED arrived here in the 1970s and devastated the elms. Some trees did survive, though. Why those particular trees resisted DED isn’t yet clear. Cuttings from those trees are being used in the Conservation Foundation’s Great British Elm Experiment. In a separate set of experiments, trees which resisted DED have been cloned.
Arboriculture experiments take time, a lot of time, but we can hope that these experiments will lead to replantings. Perhaps within my lifetime there’ll be stately elms here again.