Native Trees To Know And Grow
NATIVE TREES TO KNOW AND GROW
Native trees should be an integral part of every homeowner’s landscape. Sometimes the trees on our property have been adopted from previous owners. Other times, we randomly plant a tree simply because it was on sale at the local garden center and we want to fill an open area. How often do we consider why we need to plant native trees where we live?
Porterbrook Native Plants
There are several very important reasons to incorporate native trees into our home landscapes. Trees are essential to wildlife, because they provide nesting sites for songbirds and offer food and shelter for a wide range of wildlife. Trees can help us to conserve energy. Any landscape without trees can become a “heat island.” Without shade, the soil quickly dries out. Imagine the energy and financial savings gained by not having to run constantly air-conditioners during the heat of the summer. Trees also help to clean the air by catching airborne pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and other particulates. In these uncertain economic times, trees can increase property value. A windbreak potentially can lower heating bills by 10 to 20%. Some trees can provide edible nuts. Others can be used to create a small orchard. Many flowering species offer berries for wildlife. Trees planted near the street can soften noise pollution. And finally, shade trees planted to the east and west of your home can reduce cooling bills.
Certain species of trees, however, should not be planted in your landscape or should be removed if they are already present. Ailanthus altissima (Tree-of-Heaven) came initially to the United States in 1784 as a garden plant. Because it can grow in any habitat except wetlands, Tree-of-Heaven quickly invaded fencerows, roadsides, woodland edges, and our forests. One tree can produce nearly 350,000 seeds each year, and seed germination is high. The saplings grow quickly, and the roots give off a toxin that can inhibit the growth of or even kill other plants. Significantly, the sap of Tree-of-Heaven can be dangerous to humans. Pyrus calleryana (Bradford or Cleveland Pear) is a very poor selection for the home landscape. Both cultivars are susceptible to damage from heavy ice or high winds. Trees can split down the trunk or large limbs can break off. In addition, the seeds from these trees escape into other areas and quickly out-compete native flora. Paulownia tomentosa (Princess Tree of China) is another fast growing species and prolific producer of seeds. Anyone who has driven along the West Virginia Turnpike can see how rampantly this tree has spread.
Native trees, especially species that grow in the under story of the forest, make excellent alternatives to these non-native species. Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud or Judas Tree) possesses a short trunk and rounded crown. In the spring, it is impossible not to notice its leafless twigs covered with purple flowers. These flowers can be fried or eaten as a salad. Its smooth leaves are heart-shaped, and the roots yield a dye. Eastern Redbud prefers moist soil and does well in shaded conditions.
Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) is an under story tree with a short trunk and a flat-topped, spreading crown with long horizontal branches. Unlike any other Cornus species, Pagoda Dogwood has alternate rather than opposite leaves. The blue-black fruits with red stems provide food for wildlife in the winter. The leaves turn a shade of red and purple in the fall. Although the small, white flowers are not as showy as Cornus florida, its dense clusters of flowers, the rich fall color of the leaves, and the unusual structure of its branches, makes Pagoda Dogwood and excellent choice for a moist, shaded site. An added bonus is that this species is resistant to anthracnose.
Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood) is one of the most recognizable trees in the Spring with its showy white flowers. Unfortunately, anthracnose has devastated this species in the wild. Efforts are underway to develop resistant strains. One solution is to plant trees that have not been exposed to anthracnose. Because it is an airborne disease, do not plant trees taken from the woods nor purchase plants from a nursery without assurance they are not diseased. A strong, healthy specimen should give you years of pleasure. Flowering Dogwood enjoys moist soil and some shade. Do not plant one in full sun, because the leaves will be scorched during the summer months.
Cotinus obovatus (American Smoketree) has a short trunk and open crown. The misty flower sprays, resembling puffs of smoke, develop in late spring and remain until fall. Its attractive brilliant orange autumn foliage makes it an excellent selection for a dry site.
Chionanthus virginicus (Fringetree) is a small tree with a short trunk and a narrow, oblong crown. Although it is one of the last trees to leaf-out in the spring, Fringetrees’s white flowers in eight-inch fleecy clusters are reminiscent of billowy clouds. It does best in rich, moist, and well-drained soil.
Halesia carolina’s (Carolina Silverbells) spreading open crown and drooping, bell-shaped flowers, make it an excellent choice for a moist, well-drained and shaded spot.
Hamamelis virginiana (Witch-hazel) can reach twenty feet in eight. Its leaves turn various shades of yellow in autumn. After the leaves drop, the seeds pop out of the fruit pods. Later, the yellow flowers appear, brightening an at times snow-covered landscape. The bark is used for medicinal purposes. The branches serve as divining rods in attempts to locate underground water. Witch-hazel prefers moist, well-drained and shaded areas.
Ptelea trifolia (Wafer-ash) has a rounded crown. Its bark, leaves, and twigs—when crushed—have a lemon-like fragrance. The flowers have greenish-white petals. The fruit are wafer-like in drooping clusters. At one time, the bitter fruit were a substitute for hops. Wafer-ash does best in a moist, well-drained and shaded place.
Euonymous atropurpureus (Wahoo) inhabits rich woods and stream valleys. In cultivation, it can become a dense, symmetrical, flat-topped tree. The large, five-inch leaves turn a subdued red in the fall. The tiny purple flowers, mostly hidden by the leaves, are quite attractive. The pink popcorn fruit capsules, however, that open in the fall to reveal the bright red berries justify its use in the home landscape.
Staphylea trifolia (Bladdernut) possesses striped bark, compound opposite leaves, and inflated, papery seed capsules. It grows in moist woods and along stream banks. Bladdernut’s stone-like seeds rattle in their pods when ripe.
Unlike the towering oaks and maples found in many yards, the native trees described above reach between fifteen and twenty-five feet in height. Their foliage, flowers, and fruit can be easily seen and enjoyed. They provide shade for small areas, offer different types of foliage, and produce a wide array of fruit. As an added bonus, native spring flowers can be planted beneath them.
This article was first published by the Marietta Register