Going Native

— Written By ascheck and last updated by

People often struggle to decide on which types of trees to select for their landscape. One of the most common questions asked is what trees grow best in this area. Although there are many types of trees from around the world that find our area suitable, generally none are better suited than our native trees. Think about it, our native trees have evolved specifically to grow best in our climate and soils. Also, they are often just as attractive as any non-natives available. I’m sure no one wants to see any more loblolly pines than we already have, but there are many beautiful and unique native trees that will do a great job to make your garden beautiful. While there are far too many to list in one column, I am going to talk about a few of my favorites.

The first native tree I would like to talk about is the eastern redbud, also known asCercis canadensis. The eastern redbud, a member of the pea family, is a small to deciduous tree native to the eastern US and extreme southern Canada. Each spring, before the leaves appear, the redbud is covered with brilliant pink to purple flowers. White and double flowering varieties are also available. The eastern redbud grows in a variety of soils and areas, but prefers well-drained soils and areas with full sunlight. Proper pruning will encourage strong growth, but generally this tree requires low maintenance.

Another native favorite of mine is the southern magnolia, scientifically known as theMagnolia grandiflora. The southern magnolia is a large evergreen tree with dark green pubescent leaves and large white flowers. Southern magnolias are native to the southeastern US and can grow to be up to 90 feet tall. Widely cultivated around the world for ornamental plantings there are over 100 cultivars of southern magnolias available, including dwarf varieties. The flowers, which occur during the summer have a great scent and can be up to 12 inches in diameter. The southern magnolia can be a bit messy, dropping leaves in the spring and fall, as well as cones when it’s done flowering.

A great and often overlooked native tree is the bald cypress. The bald cypress is a unique because it is a deciduous conifer, meaning it has needles that drop each fall and it common in the eastern part of our state. Native to swampy areas throughout the south, the bald cypress is generally found in large stands in areas that stay seasonally inundated. However, it can be planted in a wide range of soils, often far from its native swampy habitat. In fact, there are some very large specimens that are growing in clay soils on NC State’s campus in Raleigh. I appreciate this tree for its form, reddish stringy bark, and its great fall color.

The fall, which is the time to plant trees, is rapidly approaching and I urge everyone to think of native trees whenever they are considering adding a tree to their property. They grow great in this area and can play the same role in the landscape as their non-native counterparts. Selecting attractive native plantings is a great way to help bring North Carolina’s natural beauty to your home landscape.

For more information on native trees, contact N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center (919-775-5624).

Alec Check is doing a Horticulture Internship with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County this summer.