Brief Communications

Nature 431, 1053 (28 October 2004) | doi:10.1038/4311053a; Published online 27 October 2004

Phylogeography:  English elm is a 2,000-year-old Roman clone

Luis Gil1, Pablo Fuentes-Utrilla1, Álvaro Soto3, M. Teresa Cervera3 & Carmen Collada2

The outbreak of Dutch elm disease in the 1970s ravaged European elm populations, killing more than 25 million trees in Britain alone; the greatest impact was on Ulmus procera, otherwise known as the English elm1. Here we use molecular and historical information to show that this elm derives from a single clone that the Romans transported from Italy to the Iberian peninsula, and from there to Britain, for the purpose of supporting and training vines. Its highly efficient vegetative reproduction and its inability to set seeds have preserved this clone unaltered for 2,000 years as the core of the English elm population — and the preponderance of this susceptible variety may have favoured a rapid spread of the disease.

  1. Departamento de Silvopascicultura, Ciudad Universitaria s/n, 28040 Madrid, Spain
  2. Departamento de Biotecnología, Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Montes (UPM), Ciudad Universitaria s/n, 28040 Madrid, Spain
  3. Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agrarias, Carretera de La Coruña, 28040 Madrid, Spain

Correspondence to: Luis Gil1 Email:

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Identification of native and hybrid elms in Spain using isozyme gene markers
Heredity Original Article (01 Aug 2000)