Trials show Italian variety to be best replacement for native elm

An Italian-bred variety of elm has come out top of a 10-year trial of Dutch elm disease-resistant varieties - held partly to assess their suitability as a host plant for the threatened white-letter hairstreak butterfly (Satyrium w-album), which feeds only on Ulmus.

Ulmus 'Morfeo' came out ahead of 12 other European and US-bred hybrids on factors ranging from stress-tolerance to resemblance to native elms, as well as similarity to the flowering and leafing times of the wych elm, U. glabra.

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Butterfly Conservation representative Andrew Brookes, who oversaw the study, said: "'Morfeo' looks like a native elm. In fact, it's two-thirds European elm and gets its disease resistance from a Chinese species, U. chenmoui."

The variety was bred at Italy's state-run Institute for Plant Protection but is not currently grown commercially in the UK. The research, carried out over five sites across southern England, was funded by Butterfly Conservation, though many trees were donated by breeders and nurseries.

"More people are taking an interest in the research," said Brookes. "The Forestry Commission has taken it on board and approved several hundreds of pounds to fund elm planting. We also have open days at one of our sites and have had several landscapers visit."

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