ELM, any of several species of hardy deciduous ornamental or forest trees of the genus Ulmus L. (fam. Ulmaceae), typically called nārvan in Persian.
Nomenclature, habitat, and local names. According to J. Zieliński (pp. 1-8), this genus is represented by the following species and hybrids in the area covered by K. H. Rechinger’s Flora Iranica (q.v.; for the three or four species found in Persia, see also Parsa, pp. 1307-11, Sāʿī, pp. 210-12, Ṯābetī, pp. 753-57, and Ḵātamsāz, pp. 4-10; local names from Parsa, Sāʿī, Ṯābetī, Javānšīr, p. 160, etc.): 1. U. wallichiana Planch.; habitat: Afghanistan (Nūrestān), Pakistan (Swat , Kurram, Quetta). 2. U. chumlia Melville and Heybroek; habitat: West Pakistan (Baluchistan). 3. U. pumila L. (= U. manshurica Nakai, etc.); habitat: Turkmenistan. 4. U. villosa Brandis ex Gamble (= U. laevigata Royle); habitat: Pakistan (Swat, Baluchistan). 5. U. minor Mill. (= U. campestris L. [ambiguous name], U. carpinifolia G. Suckow, U. suberosa Moench, U. araxina Takht., etc.); habitat: Republic of Azerbaijan (Talish); Caspian forests and plains from Arasbārān and Āstārā to Gorgān, Zagros forests and steppes in western Persia, Khorasan (Bīrjand), Tehran province, Qazvīn, Qom, etc.; Turkmenistan (Kopet Dagh); local names in Persia: qara-(ā)ḡāj (Turk., lit. black tree; Arasbārān, Āstārā, Karaj, Tehran, Hamadān), samad/t (Ṭavāleš, environs of Rašt), gūl-e pardār (Gīlakī-Persian, lit. feathered flower; an allusion to the winged samaras; environs of Rašt), lē/ī (Lāhījān, Rūdsar, Deylamān), lo (Rāmsar, Šahsavār), ūjā (Māzandarān, Gorgān), gerzem (Mašhad), ūja/e (environs of Ḵorramābād in Luristan), vej(e), vaja/e, vaj (Harsīn in Luristan), bo/ūz (Kurdistan), vezk, v/besk (Isfahan, Baḵtīārī), vezm (Qazvīn, Sardašt), (deraḵt-e) šā(h)ašrafī (Shiraz); other Kurdish (Sorānī) names (recorded by Šarafkandī, s.vv.) include: bavz, dār-a řaš (black tree), nār(a)vand, vezem, and dār-tōfāna (mosquito tree); W. B. Henning (pp. 71, 72) has reported Ṭālešī vezmado and Ḵonsārī vezvā as well as two old dialectal names, ḡozbe (Zābolestān) and gozm (eastern Persia, Samarkand, and Sīstān). 6. U. “umbraculifera” (= U. campestris L. var. umbraculifera Trautv., U. densa Litw., etc.), a very variable elm of controversial taxonomic identity, which Zieliński (pp. 5-6) considers not a species but a clone of U. minor, “cultivated from time immemorial as a shade tree in dry regions of central and south-west Asia;” reported as cultivated in Kabul, and “almost everywhere in Persia” (especially in central Persia, Kermānšāh, and Māzandarān; Zieliński, ibid.; Ḵātamsāz, p. 8) called nārvan-e čatrī (canopy-like elm) in Tehran on account of its globular crown; usually grafted on U. minor (but non-grafted specimens, without a spherical crown, are found in Isfahan, where it is called vesk; Ṯābetī, Ḵātamsāz). 7. U. glabra Huds. (= U. scabra Mill., U. montana With., U. elliptica C. Koch, U. corylifolia Boreau, etc.); habitat: Republic of Azerbaijan (Talish), Caspian forests from Arasbārān to Gorgān, where it may reach 35-40 m. in height; local names: qara-āḡāj (Arasbārān), vezem (Āstārā, Ṭavāleš), loro/ūt, sorḵe (Lāhījān, Rūdsar, Deylamān), lo/ūngā (Rāmsar, Šahsavār), malaj/č, moloč (Nūr, Kojūr, Kalārestāq), malīj (Katūl, Rāmīān), šeldār (Mīnūdašt). 8. U. boissieri Grudz. (= U. campestris L. var. microphylla Boiss.); endemic in Persia; reported from Kermānšāhān (Qaṣr-e Šīrīn), Isfahan, Kermān (no specific local name recorded).
The hybrids include: 1. U. glabra X minor, reported from Āq Bolāḡ and Ḥasan-Beyglū (in Azerbaijan), Karesang (near Āmol, Māzandarān), and Karaj. 2. U. minor X pumila, reported from the environs of Shiraz. 3. U. chumlia X wallichiana, from Kabul (Zieliński, p. 8; Ḵātamsāz, p. 4). Ṯābetī has also reported U. glabra Huds. var. pendula Rehd., named nārvan-e majnūn, with stiffly drooping branches, imported to Persia in 1315 Š./1936-37 and later propagated as an ornamental tree.
Uses of elm wood. Hard, inflexible, and durable, elm wood (especially that of U. minor) is used locally in Persia by cartwrights in making beams, pillars, boat parts, lāvak/lo(v)ak (a kind of round, shallow wooden tub or platter; Gīlakī lāk), qand-e lāk (Gīlakī; a lāk with a raised center on which lump sugar is chopped up with a special ax), etc. The U. glabra wood, less resistant to humidity than that of U. minor, is less valuable (Sāʿī; Ṯābetī).
Medicinal uses. Arab and Persian physicians and pharmacologists in the Islamic period have added hardly anything new to what the Greeks (especially Dioscorides and Galen) had written about elm (see, e.g., Abū Manṣūr Mowaffaq Heravī, s.v. šajarat al-baqq, p. 204, and Avicenna, II/2, s.v. dardār, p. 293). Almost all parts of the elm tree were found to be “cold” and “dry” in the first degree and, consequently, astringent and jālī (cleansing, etc.); a decoction of the leaves or a salve of crushed leaves, etc., was used for dressing wounds, conglutinating ulcers and fractured bones, curing leprosy, etc.; the fresh bast, used as a swathing band around the fractured or contused part of the body, would soon heal the injury; the “moisture” in elm galls, which, upon drying up, “gives birth to mosquitoes,” if smeared on the face, would make the complexion radiant.
The elm in classical Persian language and literature. Several names for the elm—all out of use now except nārvan—are recorded in some classical Persian lexicons: nārvān, nārvand; nāžīn; gožm (cf. gozm, above); sada; lāmešgar; ḵoš-sāya (Bīrūnī, s.v. dardār, p. 266; lit. “having a pleasant shade”); sīāh-deraḵt (black tree; cf. Turk. qara-āḡāj, above). “The narva/ān [being] a very shapely tree of pleasant stature” (Enjū Šīrāzī, comp. 1032/1622-23; I, pp. 519-20), “the stature of the lovely ones (qāmat-e ḵūbān) may be compared to it on account of its proportionateness and uprightness” (Naḵjavānī, p. 254, s.v. nārvan, with an apt distich from Moʿezzī; for other quotations see Dehḵodā, s.v. nārvan).
Due to the homophony of the element nār (of unknown origin and meaning) in the compound word nār-van (lit. nār tree) with nār as the shortened form of anār “pomegranate,” some classical poets and lexicographers have misinterpreted nārvan as also meaning “pomegranate tree/shrub” (see examples in Deḵodā, loc. cit.; cf. also Edward G. Browne’s “wild pomegranates” for Bīša-ye nārvan “Elm forest/grove” in his translation of Ebn Esfandīār, p. 58, tr. p. 16).
Abū Manṣūr Mowaffaq Heravī, Ketāb al-abnīa ʿan ḥaqāyeq al-adwīa, ed. A. Bahmanyār and Ḥ. Maḥbūbī Ardakānī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.
ʿA. Afḡanīnevīs, Loḡāt-e ʿāmīāna-ye fārsī-e Afḡānestān, Kabul, 1340 Š./1961.
Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī, Ketāb al-ṣaydana fi’l-ṭebb, ed. ʿA. Zaryāb Ḵoʾī, Tehran, 1370 Š./1991.
Dioscorides, De materia medica, tr. John Goodyer (1655), ed. R. T. Gunther, as The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides, Oxford, 1934.
Ebn al-Bayṭār, al-Jāmeʿ le mofradāt al-adwīa wa’l-aḡḏīa, 4 vols. in 2, Būlāq, 1291/1874. Ebn Sīnā, Ketāb al-qānūn fi’l-ṭebb, 3 vols., Būlāq, 1294/1877.
Jamāl-al-Dīn Ḥosayn Enjū Šīrāzī, Farhang-e jahāngīrī, ed. R. ʿAfīfī, 3 vols., Mašhad, 1351-54 Š./ 1972-75.
Abū Jaʿfar Aḥmad Ḡāfeqī, Jāmeʿ al-mofradāt/Ketāb al-adwīat al-mofrada, ed., tr., and commented M. Meyerhof and G. P. Sobhy as The Abridged Version of “The Book of Simple Drugs” of Ahmad . . . al-Ghâfiqî by Gregorius Abu’l-Farag (Barhebraeus), I/3 (letter dāl), Cairo, 1938, pp. 486-88.
W. B. Henning, “The Kurdish elm,” Asia Major 10/1,1963, pp. 68-72; repr. in Acta Iranica 15, 1977, pp. 577-81.
K. Javānšīr, Aṭlas-e gīāhān-e čūbī-e Īrān/Atlas of Woody Plants of Iran, Tehran, 1355 Š./1976.
M. Ḵātamsāz, Tīra-ye nārvan/Ulmaceae (= Flor-e Īrān/Flora of Iran, ed. M. Asadī et al., no. 4), Tehran, 1369 Š./1990.
M. Meyerhof, “Sur le nom dardār (orme et frêne) chez les Arabes,” Bulletin de l’Institut d’ Égypte 18, 1936, pp. 137-49.
Ṣ. Mobayyen, Rostanīhā-ye Īrān II, Tehran, 1358 Š./1979, pp. 79-82.
Moḥammad-Moʾmen Tonokābonī, Toḥfa-ye Ḥakīm Moʾmen, Tehran, n.d., p. 382.
Moḥammad b. Hendūšāh Naḵjavānī, Ṣeḥāḥ al-fors, ed. ʿA. Ṭāʿatī, Tehran, 2nd ed., 1355 Š./1976.
A. Parsa (Pārsā), Flore de l’Iran IV, Tehran, 1949.
Zakarīyā Qazvīnī, ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵlūqāt wa ḡarāʾeb al-mawjūdāt, Cairo, 4th print., 1390/1970.
K. Sāʿī, Jangal-šenāsī I, Tehran, 1327 Š./1948-49.
ʿA. Šarafkandī, Farhang-e kordī-fārsī, 2 vols., Tehran, 1368-69 Š./1989-90.
Schlimmer, p. 177.
Ḥ. Ṯābetī, Jangalhā, deraḵtān o deraḵtčahā-ye Īrān/Forests, Trees and Shrubs of Iran, Tehran, 1355 Š./1976.
Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants. . ., ed. and tr. A. Hort, 2 vols., London and Cambridge, Mass., 1916, repr. Cambridge, Mass., 1949, I, pp. 199, 251.
J. Zielińksi, Ulmaceae (= Flora Iranica, ed. K. H. Rechinger, no. 142), Graz, 1979.
Originally Published: December 15, 1998
Last Updated: December 13, 2011
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Vol. VIII, Fasc. 4, pp. 367-368