Tree of the Week: Zelkova
Japanese Zelkova (‘Zelkova serrata’) is a tree native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria. In its native habitat, zelkova grows in rich soil at the foot of mountains and along rivers and streams. It was brought to America around 1860, and has become a popular yet often unfamiliar shade tree.
Zelkova is a medium-size tree, 50 to 80’ in height, usually not as wide as it is tall. Leaves are oblong, about 4” long, pointed, with toothed edges, glossy green in summer changing to yellow to coppery red in fall. Bark of zelkova is considered very decorative, starting out smooth gray and becoming mottled as the tree matures, exposing handsome orange/tan/gray patches.
Zelkova has an interesting form (“growth habit”), being vase-shaped and low branched on a short trunk. The trunk divides all at once into lots of closely spaced, upright, ascending branches. This distinctive growth habit is somewhat similar to that of American elms, a relative of zelkovas. At one time, it was hoped that zelkovas could replace American elms, almost all of which were wiped out by Dutch Elm disease, which showed up in this country in the 1930’s. While zelkovas will never replace the grandeur and stature of American elms, they are a reminder of their beloved cousins, and have a distinct beauty of their own.
The zelkovas in the photograph provide welcome shade to families and neighbors who enjoy the playground and seating areas at Cummings Park, located at the corner of Cotting St and Lyman St. A lovely specimen of zelkova is doing beautifully well in a sidewalk planting on Governors Ave, just before Sherwood Rd. A really big collection of about two dozen mature zelkovas line the road and parking lot of Hormel Stadium, presenting an interesting contrast in form and texture to the oak trees that grow in the islands on the interior of the parking lot. Check out the two gorgeous zelkovas just across the street from Hormel, on the LoConte Rink side, for a view of two specimens that perhaps come closest of all of our Medford zelkovas to show off their elm-like beauty and grandeur.
– Submitted by Aggie Tuden, Medford Tree Warden