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A small tree, or unless trained to a single stem, often a bush, with slender spreading shoots, slightly hairy when quite young; winter buds often in pairs. Leaves 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. wide, oval or ovate, with usually six to nine coarse, triangular teeth at the sides (usually fewer on one side than on the other), the larger teeth 1⁄4 in. deep, upper surface dark green and with stiff, short hairs, lower surface with more numerous, softer hairs; stalk 1⁄8 to 3⁄16 in. long. Fruits (according to Henry) like that of Z. carpinifolia, but somewhat smaller.
There is no wild-collected specimen of this tree in the Kew Herbarium, and its origin is not definitely known. Dippel, who first distinguished it as a zelkova, and figured it in his Handbuch der Laubholzkunde, Vol. II, fig. 14, in 1892, suggested an Eastern Asiatic origin for it. It appears, however, to have considerable affinity with Z. carpinifolia, and is more likely to be of Caucasian origin. Henry suggests it may be a hybrid between Z. abelicea and Z. carpinifolia, but does not explain how such a cross can have been effected. It is a pretty and distinct shrub or tree, well marked by the deep angular cutting of the leaf-margins. It has been cultivated at Kew since 1886, and is perfectly hardy, slow growing, and forming a bushy head. It was long thought to be an elm, but it fruited at Paris in 1908, and was conclusively shown to be a zelkova.
Although introduced to Kew in 1886, the present specimen there came from the Simon-Louis nurseries in 1900 and measures 42 × 31⁄2 ft (1986).
Some other examples are: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, North Drive, 26 × 4 ft (1985); Jephson Gardens, Leamington Spa, Warwicks., 38 × 4 ft (1981); Crathes Castle, Kinc., 36 × 33⁄4 ft (1981).