by Kate Wilson
Not sure what all the native plant hype is about? That’s okay. I’ll let you in on it: besides the whole ecological, good steward of the landscape angle it also makes good practical sense. Native plants are adapted to our climate and soil. I know- what a revelation, right? But think about it: native plants already love our crappy clay soil, they tolerate our manic temperature swings and get by with whatever water our local skies provide. Often times, natives are also hardy in the sense that they don’t have many pest or disease issues (except for pests and diseases that are not native, but we’ll save that for another time. I hate you, emerald ash borer!).
Enough introduction, let’s get down to business. Here are five great native tree options…
Carolina Silverbell, Halesia tetraptera: This native has delicate white bell-shaped blooms that usually appear in mid spring. This small tree (30’-40 tall and 15’-30’ wide) likes full sun or part shade. Although it thrives in well-drained organic, rich, and slightly acidic soil, it can tolerate a range of soils. It would be best to amend your existing clay with some compost at the time of planting and fertilize with a soil acidifier (Espoma organic holly tone would work if you already have it on hand). Oh, and it is essentially pest and disease free!
Serviceberry, Amelandchier x grandiflora or Amelanchier laevis: This superb small tree (25’tall and 25’ wide) has a feathery white bloom in early spring. It tolerates full sun, but thrives in part sun and can tolerate part shade. Naturally a multi-stemmed tree, trained single trunk options can be found in larger B&B (balled & burlapped) sizes. So what’s the superb part? Besides being a native, blooming in shady conditions, and having delicious edible fruits (they’re our native blueberry alternative), Serviceberries have great form and foliage texture and a smattering of oranges and red fall color. This is a three season small tree with appetizing function to boot! Superb I say! (Look for ‘Autumn Brilliance’ and ‘Princess Diana’ varieties.)
Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis: This little lady (25’ tall and 25’wide) can also be found as a single or multi-stemmed tree. It, hands down, has one of the longest bloom times, especially for a tree! The blooms have a small lady’s slipper shape with a light purple color that completely blankets the canopy and sometimes even pops up on the trunk. Gorgeous. Finding a natural stand of these while in bloom is an amazing experience. After the blooms fade broad heart-shaped leaves emerge. There are so many great cultivars of this tree, most requiring part sun, I’m going to make a separate post about them. The only downside to this native is that it does not have a long life span, typically 25 years or so. I advise a Sunday drive throughout the Clintonville neighborhood – about two weeks after this is posted- if you need any more convincing.
Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus: Another small (15’ tall and 15’ wide) native that blooms in late spring. Narrow white petals drip from the branches and give off a sweet fragrance. Can tolerate full sun to part sun and I’ve even seen (and smelled) it in part shade. Nice broad leaf texture with yellow fall color. Very underused tree. A good specimen can be found behind the main downtown library in the (Seurat) Topiary Garden NW corner.
Dogwood, Cornus flordia: Another small tree, but this beauty needs some shade. Ideally, plant in a place that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. There are many MANY cultivars of this tree, most with varying shades of white (50 shades of…dogwood?). “They” even have some out with some pretty interesting pink coloration. I’m partial to the Cherokee varieties, but you really can’t go wrong with any. This tree may drop its leaves early in the late summer/early fall if we have a dry hot summer – which is most of the time- but they usually won’t go without first splashing your yard with a little red color.
Want large native spring blooming trees? Look into Tulip poplar, Yellow wood and of course, the Buckeye!