Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Trees - Alternatives

As I walked through my neighborhood the other day, my view was filled with blooming ornamental pears (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ and others). This neighborhood is about 25 years old and that was a popular landscaping choice then. Thankfully it is less popular now.   

American plum (Prunus americana) in late March

Ornamental spring-blooming trees from other places (Asia, Europe, etc.) are a big part of the selection available to the average gardener. Are non-native trees the only choices for spring blooms in the landscape? Of course, the answer is no. The wild lands of Georgia were full of spring-blooming trees long before Europeans arrived on these shores. Those native trees are perfect candidates for our gardens even today.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) – the earliest tree to bloom with small but numerous red flowers that provide pollen and nectar for early bees. Red maple is also very adaptable to a variety of growing conditions.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) – pale purple flowers often peek out at us from roadsides, but this tree provides a beautiful shape in the garden and bees love the flowers too. Several cultivars are available.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea and other species) – soft white blossoms flutter in spring breezes. These flowers turn into tasty fruit used by early settlers as well as highly sought after by birds.

Plums (Prunus americana and others) – white flowers are held close to the branch but they light up the tree because they are so numerous. Pollinated flowers become juicy small fruits favored by humans and wildlife alike.

Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) – clusters of white flowers are joined by emerging leaves to create a pleasing effect. Clusters of bright red berries appear in summer and persist into fall, waiting for flocks of birds to discover them. Several cultivars are available.

Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis 'Winter King') at the elementary school nearby

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) – elongated clusters of creamy flowers provide a feast for native bees. Ripening berries beckon birds who often find tasty caterpillars too.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) – pale yellow flowers are held in clusters before the leaves emerge. Only female flowers turn into the showy blue and red fruits. The tree also provides one of the best fall color shows around.

Crabapple (Malus angustifolia) – southern crabapple flowers are pale pink and can be delightfully fragrant. Edible small fruits follow and were often used by early settlers.

Crabapple (Malus angustifolia

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) – is a small tree form shrub that is perfect for small spaces. The early flowers are an important source of nectar for returning hummingbirds and bees.

Fringetree (Chionanthus virginica) – the delicate white petals are especially showy on male trees, but it is the female that produces the dark blue berries in the fall. As a specimen tree, this one never fails to grab attention.

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) – a lesser known species of dogwood, this one has alternate leaves and an especially pleasing shape. Tiny flowers held in clusters turn into fruit that is much appreciated by birds.

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) – a long admired ornamental tree, this is generally available as cultivars in nurseries. Tiny flowers surrounded by large white bracts turn into showy red fruits that birds love. Don’t be fooled by Kousa dogwood, it is not native.

Silverbell (Halesia sp.) - this small to medium tree is perfect for a specimen tree location. The showy white bells decorate a gracefully shaped tree.

Snowbell (Styrax grandifolius and S. americana) - similar to the silverbell, but the white petals are more open to show the yellow stamens.

Bigleaf snowbell (Styrax grandifolius)

Wow, that is a lot of choices once you write them all down! I hope that if you are looking for something native that you can find something on this list to suit you and your landscape conditions.


  1. I didn't know about the Pagoda Dogwood. I like to plant native trees, keep all my visitors well fed.

  2. Thanks for this inspiring list. I'm now regretting some of the real estate I devoted to ornamental cherry trees. I need to find some spaces to squeeze in these beautiful natives (especially crabapple, which I didn't realize was native to the US).