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Desert Diary
Plants/Siberian Elm


Driving through the desert between El Paso and the Guadalupe Mountains, you expect to see an occasional Desert Willow near the roadside, along with the more common Honey Mesquite shrubbery and the ubiquitous Creosotebush. What most of us don't expect to see are small elm trees taking advantage of the extra moisture available from pavement runoff. These hardy little trees are Siberian Elms and widely grown in El Paso and other Southwestern cities, even though most people call them Chinese Elm, which actually is a different species.

The Siberian Elm is native to northeastern Asia and was introduced into the United States in the 1860s. A tree truly has to be hardy to thrive through Siberian winters and yet withstand the hot Chihuahuan Desert climate. Relatively short-lived, many of these trees originally planted for shade now are reaching senility. As they die off, many are being replaced with other shade trees. In time, they may be as rare in urban areas as the mulberry—another old-time favorite in the Southwest, but banished because of their propensity to cause allergies.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.