Top 50 Atlanta Trees
You may recognize the common names of many of these trees, so now try to learn the botanical names of the 50 trees that are among our favorites for our growing region. These Top 50 Atlanta Trees are mostly native, but also include a few non-native species that thrive and are appropriate (or beloved) in local landscapes.
Botanical names are in the Latin language and are used by tree and plant professionals to identify different tree species and varieties more accurately than with common names. Once you familiarize yourself with the trees below and how they look, you will be delighted to start seeing more of them on your walk, bike, or drive through neighborhoods. Perhaps, keep a log and see if you can find all 50!
Scientific Name: Acer buergerianum
This deciduous Asian-native is commonly seen in urban tree plantings around the US, renowned for its toughness and rapid growth, quickly reaching a height of 40’and a spread of 25 -30’. As a newly planted tree, it’s identified by its smooth gray bark and the tenancy for certain of its branches to shoot far past the others within the canopy. As it matures, the gray bark furls and flakes giving way to a brownish-orange underside. Tri-lobed (hence trident) leaves are glossy and bright on top and paler underneath. Prolific samara seeding is also a distinguishing feature of the tree. Trident maple makes a great alternative to its native cousins, the red and sugar maple as it thrives in poor compact soils, will not buttress concrete, and can handle heavy-handed pruning.
Scientific Name: Amelanchier arborea
This small deciduous native grows in partial shade to full sun. While its single-stem form is occasionally used in urban plantings, poor air quality and reflective heat tend to diminish its beauty and longevity. Given the proper conditions, found in yards, parks, and other open spaces, serviceberry can reach heights of 25’ and 15’ spread. In addition to its prolific fruit, which mimics blueberry in taste and appearance, serviceberry can be used as a specimen tree, boasting robust creamy white flowers and showy reds and oranges in the fall. If the intended use of this tree is to harvest its fruit, you better be quick. Squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, mice, and at least 40 bird species either eat the fruit or browse the twigs and leaves.
Scientific Name: Aralia spinosa
This small native tree, often found in thickets along forest edges and disturbed areas, can be identified by its huge bipinnately compound leaves (an average leaf has over 100 leaflets!) and stout prickly trunk (hence Devil’s Walking Stick). The discernable spines disappear as the tree moves from browsing height towards its 35’ potential. Upon maturity, devil’s walking stick takes on an umbrella-like appearance, supported by multiple trunks and scarred gray-brown bark. Butterflies, bees, and wasps adore the tree’s dense shoots of small green late-summer flowers and many native birds species rely on its lustrous early-fall black fruit.
Scientific Name: Betula nigra
River birch is a low-maintenance, fast-growing midstory native reaching heights of 40-70′. Originally cultivated to control flooding along riverbanks, it’s versatility in any moisture setting has lent its use as a popular landscape tree. Its most discerning characteristic is its flaky bark, which resembles large pencil shavings. River birch double-toothed, triangular leaves are arranged alternately. River birch is more commonly grown as a multi-trunk tree, but drought and urban hardy cultivars like ‘Dura-Heat’ can be sourced as a single-trunked tree form.
Scientific Name: Carpinus caroliniana
The American Hornbeam is a native understory tree that can reach 20- 30 feet in height. While found int he wild in moist shade, it’s tolerance to full sun and occasional flooding, lend its use as a commonly used urban tree. The defining characteristic of Hornbeam is its bark. Shiny blue-gray bark, which native-Americans likened to the sheen of animal horn, is smooth and muscular, hence its other common names ‘musclewood’ and ‘blue beech’. It’s non-showy flowers are yellowish-green 1 to 2 inch hanging catkins. Patience is needed with this tree as it’s a slow grower.
Scientific Name: Asimina triloba
Pawpaw grows less than twenty-five feet, with feather-veined leaves in leaflets arranged in a wedge-shape. In shade, it grows tall and more widely branched. Some trees produce fruit that is like a papaya, and tastes like a blend of banana, mango, and melon.
Scientific Name: Carya tomentosa
The Mockernut Hickory is a native overstory tree that grows slowly up to 100 feet tall. The tree produces gray, furrowed bark and large leaves (one leaf grows up to 20 inches long), which grow along stalks with dense hair. Apart from their size, the leaves are identifiable by their shiny yellowish-green color on top and pale green below. Mockernuts produce the hardest wood of all hickories, making it commonly used in furniture and tool production. In the Fall, Mockernut’s deep yellow Fall color is equally showy to that of blackgum and maple species. Squirrels, mice, and deer enjoy their nuts, while many moth species rely on its leaves for food.
Scientific Name: Cedrus deodara
Deodar Cedar is an Asian native renown for its towering beauty and year-round interest. With 1 to 2 inch long, sharp-pointed evergreen needles have a silvery bloom, giving them a blue-green color. Their scales are deciduous, their cones are upright and 3 to 4 inches long, and their bark is initially smooth and grey-brown, later developing short furrows with scaly ridge tops. It’s often used in landscapes as specimen tree, but its often-reached potential 50′ spread is often ignored, creating the necessity to remove the lowest branches of the canopy.
Scientific Name: Cercis canadensis
Next to dogwood, Redbud is likely the Southeast’s most coveted flowering species. The Eastern Redbud is a native understory tree, reaching heights up to 25′ with simple, heart-shaped leaves and bark which is initially smooth and brown; later it becomes dark gray, ridged and furrowed/scaly. As redbuds have been cultivates and crossed over the years, its leaves can take on various colors, from deep purple (‘Merlot’) to variable oranges, reds and yellows (‘Rising Sun’). The tree’s fruit is very showy, pea-like, pink- purple in color, clustering along stems in early spring.
Scientific Name: Chionanthus virginicus
White Fringe Tree is a showy flowering native that takes on a shrub-like form, capable of reaching heights of 25′. This Eastern US native is renowned for it’s white fringe-like creamy white flowers, which densely cover the tree deep into Spring, prior to leaf emergence. Traditionally used as a specimen or pollinator tree in garden settings, its tolerance for air pollution allows for its use in urban plantings. However, its preference for decent soil and moisture should not be ignored. Fringe tree is sexed and in the right conditions, females can produce small olive-like fruits that are enjoyed by numerous bird species.
Scientific Name: Cornus florida
The South’s landmark flowering tree species, renowned for its beautiful white blossoms, deep orange-red fall color, and handsome fissured gray bark. This understory native quickly reaches mature heights of 15-20 feet. The flowers unfold from the gray winter flower buds before the leaves come out, and the white-pink bracts are showy, often mistaken for the flower themselves. For all that is great about this tree, dogwoods have numerous diseases and hardiness issues. Susceptibility to powdery mildew, leaf spot, canker, root rot, and the devastating dogwood anthracnose is common in less-than-ideal planting conditions. Planted in urban settings, even anthracnose-resistant species have a higher than normal mortality rate. For the best results, plant when the tree is young (1,3, or 7-gallon) in rich, well-drained soil and partial shade.
Scientific Name: Diospyros virginiana
A native midstory tree prized for its unique fruit and stunning red and orange fall colors. American persimmon trees produce a unique rectangular plated bark supporting a canopy that can reach heights of 60′ in rich soil. Due to the American persimmon’s need for separate male and female trees to produce its relatively small fruit, the majority of commercially available Persimmon are Asian.
Scientific Name: Fagus grandifolia
A towering and striking overstory native, reaching heights of 120′ in the wild. As they like to establish themselves in near-full shade, beech is one of, if not the last tree species to arrive through natural succession in Eastern deciduous forests. Unique characteristics include its smooth silver-gray bark (with unfortunate carvings often found in it), its persistent dormant winter leaves (marcescence), and its muscular base.
Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba
A species native to Asia, Ginkgo trees are celebrated for its prehistoric roots, medicinal usage, and uniform fan-shaped leaves in the fall. Ginkgoes are extremely hardy in urban environments, and take patience before reaching a mature height of 100.’ In the Fall, this species is a show-stopper, turning a deep yellow, often shedding its entire canopy in a single day.
Scientific Name: Hamamelis vernaslis
Vernal Witchhazel, a Midwest US native has a rounded shrubby habit that typically grows 6-10 feet tall with a somewhat larger spread. The tree is notable for its extremely early and lengthy bloom period. Ovate, dull green leaves (2-5 feet) turn an attractive golden yellow in autumn. Witch hazels are colonial spreaders, so yearly pruning is encouraged to maintain a compact appearance.
Scientific Name: Ilex opaca
This Central and Eastern US native usually reaches heights of 20-30′, but can mature to 60′ in the right conditions. It features a variety of color over the seasons: during the winter months, bright red berries sprout against deep green foliage (wreath making), and in the springtime, creamy white flowers bloom. While its leaves are serrated, they’re much less thorny than their Asian cousins.
Scientific Name: Juglans nigra
Black Walnut is a large (100-130 feet) deciduous native with grey-black, deeply furrowed bark. Its leaves are alternate, 30-60 cm long, odd-pinnate with 15-23 leaflets, the largest leaflets located in the center, 7-10 cm long and 2-3 cm broad. Its edible nuts are difficult to extract, encapsulated in a hard husk resembling a tennis ball, turning black as it falls to the ground and begins to rot. Black Walnut produces a soil-bound chemical called juglones, which limits the species that can be grown in its vicinity. Azalea and blueberry are particularly susceptible to mortality when planted nearby.
Scientific Name: Juniperus virginiana
The Eastern Redcedar is an overstory native that can reach heights of 65′ with a 25′ spread full-to- ground. Easily identified by its dark green scale-like leaves, blue berry-like cones, and stripy, fibrous bark. Red Cedar is considered the most drought-resistant conifer in North America. Due to their piney aroma and taste, eastern redcedar berries are browsed by many bird species and are harvested for gin production, although less often than closely-related J. communus.
Scientific Name: Lagerstroemia spp.
With Crape Myrtle’s diverse range of Summer flowers (anywhere from bright white to deep purple) and its ability to not only survive but thrive the harshest of conditions, this tree has become ubiquitous with urban plantings around the world. If left to assume its natural form, Crapes statuesque and muscular smooth bark can reach heights of 40′. Unfortunately, European cultural practices encourage pollarding (topping) each year, thwarting the natural beauty and shade-providing potential of the tree. Its flowers are popular with bees, searching for seldom found Summer nectar.
Scientific Name: Magnolia grandiflora
The Southern Magnolia is a landmark tree in the south, but one in need of space, with an expected height of 80′ and a spread of 50′. Large lustrous evergreen leaves, creamy white fragrant flowers, and attractive red pods of bird-friendly fruit make it perfect for parks, gardens, and great lawns. Selections such as the dwarfed ‘Little Gem’ (25-30′ height) or the uber cold hardy ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ (40-50′ height) allow for homeowners with smaller yards to enjoy this trees’ year-round interest and beauty.
Scientific Name: Magnolia macrophylla
Bigleaf Magnolia is a native mid-sized deciduous tree with a maximum height of 50 feet. A native to small pockets of the Southeast US, it is renowned for its bright green leaves that can grow as much as 30 inches long. It’s fragrant white flowers sustain many pollinator species and can span as much as a foot wide. The fruit is a cone-shaped pod containing large red seeds and is browsed by numerous native bird species. Bigleaf magnolias must be planted in somewhat protected space to ensure its leaves do no succumb to poor air quality, scorch and scald, or heavy winds which will tear the large, thin leaves.
Scientific Name: Magnolia virginiana
Used in urban settings or as a garden specimen tree, the sweetbay is prized for its hardiness and beauty. In contrast to southern magnolia, its dense form is upright, its foliage lighter green, and its height tops out around 35′.What it shares with its cousins is abundant creamy white flowers and red seed clusters, often browsed by native birds. Sweetbay is more tolerant of urban conditions and occasional flooding that M.macrophylla and M. grandiflora, thus it can be observed thriving in varying difficult conditions.
DD Blanchard Magnolia
Scientific Name: Magnolia grandiflora, 'DD Blanchard'
DD Blanchard Magnolia is a dense-growing tree that can reach 30 feet tall. Its pyramidal growth habit displays glossy dark-green foliage with cinnamon-colored felt textured underneath, and large white fragrant flowers.
Scientific Name: Magnolia tripetela
The Umbrella Magnolia has smooth, gray bark and relatively few branches. It boasts leaves nearly 2 feet long, 8 inches across, and gathered at the end of the twigs; they have the look and texture of a banana. This tree has white blossoms, and looks like a smaller-leafed Bigleaf Magnolia.
Scientific Name: Malus species
The native flowering crabapple is a thorny deciduous tree, capable of reaching heights of 35′ with a slightly smaller spread. It’s a great flowering ornamental, easily matching the beauty of Asian Cherry Blossom (Prunus spp.). In the spring, dense groupings of pink, white, or red flowers sprout, and late summer into early fall the tree is covered in small berry-sized fruit. While more of a food source for wildlife such as birds and squirrels, people often harvest the crabapples to use in jams and reductions. Abundant Asian hybrids have been cultivated to avoid the vast diseases and pest issues, especially found in humid climates, but native crabapples are more attractive to pollinators, thus, tend to fruit more prolifically.
Scientific Name: Nysssa sylvatica
Blackgum, or Tupelo to native Southerners, is an overstory tree native to the Eastern US. While commonly found along riparian corridors, it can grow in most conditions, making it an excellent urban shade tree, capable of reaching 80′. Blackgum is named for its small, deep purple fruit, which is very popular with native birds. Bees browse its inconspicuous green flowers to create a very sought after honey. It’s one of the first species to change color in the fall – glossy deep reds, oranges, and yellow really make it stand out. As it ages (up to 400 years!) its bark that ranges from reddish-brown to steel gray and develops deep irregular ridges.
Scientific Name: Ostrya virginiana
The Eastern Hophornbeam is a slender understory tree that grows 20 to 30 feet tall. As it is usually found growing in dry soils of rocky and upland slopes, it makes a great drought-tolerant urban tree. The non-showy April flowers give way to drooping clusters of seed pods that resemble the common hops used in bitter beers. Alternatively referred to as Ironwood for its strong, dense wood, which is covered by light brown to reddish-brown bark divides into thin scales that peel away from the trunk.
Scientific Name: Oxydendrum arboreum
Sourwood is a native understory tree prized for its unusual pyramidal form, magnificent pendulous flower clusters, and Autumn reds and oranges that rival that of dogwood and serviceberry. Sourwoods can be found in the wild reaching heights of 50′, but due to their intolerance of drought, direct sun, and air pollution, they’re found to mature at 25′ in urban settings. To reduce leaf spot, twig blight, and early mortality, plant sourwoods as small trees (7-gallon pot or smaller). With a bit of patience and tenderness, this tree might become the highlight of your garden.
Scientific Name: Pinus taeda
Loblolly Pine is renowned and commercially grown for its extremely rapid growth, with growth often exceeding 2′ annually. An evergreen native that can reach heights of 80′ height and 35′ spread. Loblolly’s densely arranged yellow-green needles (which usually grow in bundles of three) provide immediate screening for homeowners and habitat to many bird species. It’s cones, which are browsed by species such as squirrels, chipmunks, and various rodents, are 3 to 6 inches long, red-brown, and have very sharp spines.
Scientific Name: Platanus occidentalis
Sycamores can be found towering over riparian areas throughout its native Eastern US. As it’s able to tolerate compact and flooded soils and poor air quality, sycamores make a great street tree, keeping in mind its up-to 100′ height. Identified by it’s gray, green, and brown ‘camouflage-like’ flaky bark, light green serrated leaves, and hairy gumball seeds browsed by birds and various wildlife.
Scientific Name: Quercus alba
Known as ‘The King of the Forests’, white oak is prized commercially for its dense, gorgeous wood and ornamentally for its near-perfect form- broad, round, dense head, and wide, sprawling branches. In the wild, it can reach heights of 100′, but it’s more common to observe an 80′ mature canopy. This native oak is one of the last species to appear successionally, thus, it’s an easy identifier of a mature, healthy forest. Its leaves emerge pink in early Spring, transitioning to deep green in summer. While not renowned for its fall color, it’s plenty capable of showing off deep reds and oranges. Perhaps the most notable identifiers are its gray, flaking bark, smoothly-lobed leaves, and its warty, scaled acorns.
Scientific Name: Quercus coccinea
As its name suggests, scarlet oak is prized for its vibrant red Fall color. It’s deeply lobed, glossy leaves can grow up to 6″ long and often persist throughout Fall and Winter dormancy (marcescent). The tree grows to a rounded form reaching heights between 60 to 80 feet tall, usually putting on 1-2′ of growth per season. It produces reddish-brown acorns, 1/2 inch-1 inch long, an important food source for many songbirds, turkeys, and deer.
Southern Red Oak
Scientific Name: Quercus falcata
A native in the red oak family, the Southern Red Oak grows in sandy, upland soils and is found in mixed forests. It’s considered a moderate sized to tall tree, typically reaching 60-80. Its bark is strong and coarse-grained. Leaves are variable but usually have a prominent pair of lobes toward the leaf tip, somewhat resembling a falcon’s talons. It’s tolerance of drought and poor soils make it a good choice for open space urban plantings.
Scientific Name: Quercus lyrata
A medium-sized member of the white oak family that’s commonly found in the bottomland forests of the Southeast US. Of similar size and stature (60’x 60′) to many other native oaks, it differs in the way its fruit is housed- a distinctive bur-like acorn cup that typically encloses 2/3 to almost all of the nut. Its leaves are simple and alternate leaves, 6 to 10 inches long. The leaves have 5 to 9 lobes with irregular sinuses and a hairy white underside. Its bark is gray-brown and scaly. Its relative tolerance to standing water makes it a good selection for urban areas prone to flooding.
Scientific Name: Quercus nutalli
The nuttal oak is a fast-growing, medium-sized (40-60′) native and member of the red oak family. Its leaves are alternate, simple, 4-8 inch long leaves, deeply divided into 5-7 narrow, long-pointed lobes ending in a few bristle-tipped teeth and wide sinuses between lobes. Its bark turns from smooth gray to dark and furrowed with flat, scaly ridges as it matures. Coupled with its nonintrusive roots, its ability to grow in poorly drained clay flats and low bottoms make it a great streetscape tree.
Scientific Name: Quercus pagoda
Cherrybark oak is a close relative to and is often confused with the Southern Red Oak. It differs in its speedier growth, height (100′ max), and its greater tolerance to urban conditions, especially heat. While utilized as in Atlanta’s vast parking lots, streetscapes, and parks its native range runs just south in a continuous band stretching to East Texas. Its leaves are alternate, simple, five to eight inches long, in five to nine bristle tipped lobes.
Scientific Name: Quercus phellos
A Southeast native and member of the red oak family, the willow oak is likely the most popular oak for streetscape plantings. Naturally found growing on lowland floodplains, often along streams, it thrives in urban pollution and drought. Also used for its fast growth, quicky reaching heights up to 60-90 feet tall. It’s non-lobed, simple leaves are bright green with a downy underside, resembling those of willow trees.
Northern Red Oak
Scientific Name: Quercus rubra
Northern red oaks are great street trees because they tolerate pollution and compacted soil well. This tree grows to 50 to 75 feet tall with an equal, dense spread that provides great shade. The leaves are alternate, simple, 4 to 8 inches long with pointy lobes. Its Fall color can range from an insignificant red0brown to a deep, vibrant red.
Scientific Name: Quercus shumardii
A drought-tolerant native in the red oak family that can quickly grow up to 60 feet tall, in either pyramidal or spreading shape. This tree grows well on moist, well-drained bottomland soils. Leaves are alternate, broadly obovate, with varying sinus depth. It’s urban air and soil tolerance and stunning red fall color make it a great shade tree for yards and parks.
Scientific Name: Quercus stellata
A smaller, broader member of the white oak group, the Post Oak is relatively drought-resistant and tends to be a small- to medium-sized (50′ x 50′ max) tree with broad, flat, cross-like leaves with smooth tips. A slow grower that can be found in rocky or sandy ridges. In the Winter, the post oak’s silhouette stands out due to its broad, shorter form and its uniquely quirky branches.
Southern Live Oak
Scientific Name: Quercus virginiana
Although it grows naturally in the Southernmost reaches of our state, live oak is Georgia’s official state tree. A member of the red oak family, it’s often considered one the most majestic of all American natives, lagging only coastal redwoods. Renown for it’s sprawling growth habit (80′ and 100′ spread max), extremely hard wood, year-round foliage (in its native range), and long life. In Atlanta, live oaks are considered semi-evergreen and tend to dwarf. To ensure survival and establishment in Atlanta, it’s recommended that it be planted in 7-gallon or smaller.
Scientific Name: Sassafrass albidum
Often dismissed as a clustering ornamental shrub, Sassafras often attain heights of 60′ in the wild. This native tree produces bright yellow and red leaves in late summer and fall, and produces a round, blue fruit, attractive to birds. Its commonly found growing in colonies in upland and bottom-land forests, forming thickets in abandoned fields. It’s easily identifiable by its thick, grey to brown deeply-furrowed bark and leaves which take on three variable shapes – a simple rounded leaf, to a mitten, and a rounded trident. Sassafras was formerly harvested for its medicinal and culinary (Root Beer), but its leaf oil has since been categorized as carcinogenic.
Scientific Name: Taxodium ascendens
Like its more common sibling, the bald cypress, Pond Cypress trees inhabit ecotones, a unique ecosystem where two habitats meet. Thus, it’s an extremely hardy and versatile native specimen tree, used in wet and dry settings. It also shares the rare distinction of a deciduous conifer, producing bright green rounded cones and vibrant yellow to red Fall color. Its bark is deeply ridged and its soft needles spiral around their stems, growing in close proximity to each other.
Scientific Name: Taxodium distichum
Bald cypress is a pyramidal overstory tree native to the Southeast United States. While its natural habitat is marshland (Louisiana’s official state tree), it can thrive in a dry urban setting, reaching heights of 70′ in parks and yards. Often used as a specimen tree for its rapid growth, unusual coniferous fruit, excellent Fall color, and toughness. After a year of watering, it becomes self-reliant and requires little-to-no pruning, maintaining a single dominant trunk throughout its life. Its bark is reddish-brown and fibrous, its branches are distinctly horizontal, and its feather-like foliage is spirally arranged along the stems.
Scientific Name: Ulmus alata
A midstory native of the Southeast US, Winged Elm is named for its wing-like growths along the branchlets, which are often irregular and appear as warty growths on the sides of the twigs. It’s leaves follow the pattern of other elms- deep green on tops, pale and hairy beneath, and an asymmetrical base. Adapts well to both dry, gravely soils or moist, well-drained areas and can quickly reach heights of 40 to 60′. As it ages, it’s brownish-grey bark begins to develop a flaky appearance and its crown becomes more uniform.
Scientific Name: Ulmus americana
American elm represents modern arboriculture’s successful efforts to save a species that was nearly eliminated from its native landscape. A towering deciduous tree that can be found growing in mature forests in moist, deep, rich soils. Easily identifiable by its vase-like shape, its serrated leaves – asymmetrical at their base, and its gray-brown bark with flat, intervening ridges. Often planted in urban landscapes for its durability and extremely rapid grown. Without regular aggressive pruning in its youth, branch attachments can easily fail due to crowding.
Scientific Name: Prunus spp.
Cherry trees’ reliable, diverse, and striking blooms inspire annual festivals and even pilgrimages around the world. A small Asian native, that can reach heights of 15-30′ and attains dense plumes of true white to deep pink and everything in between. Due to numerous disease problems and occasional issues with frost, cherries are not particularly hardy or long-lived in urban settings.
Scientific Name: Liriodendron tulipifera
The official state tree of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana, the mature tulip poplar is a sight to behold. A stately native with the ability to quickly reach 90- 100′ and 50′ spread, without the need to prune. While the great majority of overstory trees house inconspicuous flowers, but the tulip poplar is named for its large orange and yellow tulip-flowers, which serve as an important source of nectar to hummingbirds and bees. Also identifiable by its four-lobed (‘cat-faced’) leaves and deep fissured gray bark. Tulip poplar prefers well rich, well-drained soil, thus, as an urban tree, it’s extensively planted in parks and yards.
Scientific Name: Liquidambar styraciflua
Sweetgum is an Eastern US native prized for its beautiful wood, it’s vibrant and variable Fall color (bright yellow to deep purple) and its wildlife value. It is easily identified by its spiky brown ‘gumball fruit and its 5-7 lobed star-shaped and glossy leaves. Unless fruitless varieties such as ‘rotundaloba’ are used, it should not be used in streetscape planting palettes due to meddy and hazardous fruit drops. Quickly reaching heights of up to 80′, it makes a great park or yard tree, especially for those bird lovers. A common misconception is that its common name derives from the fruit, rather, its wounds emit a sweet sap, historically used in medicine and as chewing gum.
Scientific Name: Parrotia persica
Like its fellow Asian-natives, the crape myrtle and trident maple, Persian ironwood is renowned for its hardiness in the harshest of urban settings. While often cultivated and maintained as a specimen shrub, it can reach heights of 40′ in single-trunk form. In this form, its wood becomes extremely dense and muscular. As it matures, bark exfoliates to show green, white or tan patches, creating Winter interest. In addition to its tolerance of heat, poor soil and air quality, and heavy pruning, its showcase of deep red and orange Fall color lend its usage in mass street plantings.
Scientific Name: Cladrastis kentukea
A medium-sized native tree that wows in Spring, with drooping clusters of pea-like white flowers and in Fall, as it displays variations of pale to canary yellow. Other discernable traits include pinnately- compound leaves made up of 7-11 leaflets and smooth gray bark which covers its namesake yellow wood. Yellowwood is best suited in yard and garden settings as it’s weak structure requires pruning and its thin bark can avoid reflective heat.
Photo credit: T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Southern Sugar Maple
Scientific Name: Acer floridanum/ Acer saccharum ssp. floridanum.
Southern sugar maple is a hardier variety (or subspecies) of North America’s prized sugar maple. Where it shares beautiful orange and yellow Fall coloring, it varies in stature, reaching heights of 65′ and a spread of up to 40′. Additionally, unlike A. saccharum, it thrives in Atlanta’s (and hundreds of miles south) heat. Its native range is much more restrictive, from Atlanta to the northern tip of the panhandle. Issues of shallow rooting and thin bark persist in this species, making it more suitable for open space than streetscapes.
Special thanks to long-time Trees Atlanta volunteer, Tom Deal, for allowing us to use his beautiful photographs for many of the trees in this post. Additional credits go to the following individuals/organizations:
Elizabeth’s Wildflower Blog
T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University