Garden-Worthy Native Trees

Gorgeous Fall Color

Nyssa sylvatica

Nyssa Sylvatica - Black Gum, Black Tupelo

This is one of my favorite trees and one of our most beautiful native trees. It's the first to turn color in the fall with outstanding orange-red, purple, yellow, and scarlet - a signal for migrating birds. The bluish-black fruit ripen in September and are eaten by many birds and mammals.

This is a difficult tree to find at nurseries; like the White Oak, it has a deep tap root making it hard to transplant but if you purchase a young tree you will have good success.

If you have room for it, consider this tree as a specimen tree. With an elegant broad habit resembling Scarlet Oak when young and changing to broadly pyramidal at maturity, it has outstanding summer and fall foliage and habit.

It is found on dry mountain ridges and along river banks so it tolerates a wide range of habitat, from sun to part shade. It responds well to extra watering in dry summers. Trees can be male or female or both. Many cultivars are available with searching. Growth rate is slow to medium - 12-15’ over a 10-15 year period.

Photo courtesy of NC State University Cooperative Extension


Flowers to Attract Hummingbirds

A. Pavia flowersA. Pavia

Aesculus pavia L. - Red Buckeye

This is an important small native tree or multi-stemmed shrub in the horse chestnut family that is pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds. Flowers are red tubular panicles 4-8” long with stamens that project out-quite a show stopper in late April-May. Grows 10-20’ high and wide. The leaves are handsome dark green; no appreciable fall color. Plant this tree in filtered light or as foundation/entryway specimen. This tree is pH and salt tolerant growing naturally in neutral to alkaline soils. It can tolerate brief flooding and drought. (*Note: fruit splits in September-October releasing two yellow-brown nuts which are poisonous if eaten.) Easy to start from seed and flowers within 2-3 years.


Fruit to Attract Birds

Chionantus virginicus L. - White Fringetree

This is a small native flowering tree/shrub with fragrant, small white star-shaped flowers that smother the tree in late May-June. It looks stunning planted in groups or borders but is also a lovely specimen tree.  Fruit is dark blue and egg shaped on female trees in late August-September and the birds love them!  Plant in spring in deep, acid well drained soil but this tree’s quite adaptable; tolerates full sun to partial shade. It’s a slow grower so it rarely needs pruning! You need a male plant nearby for fruit set.


Delightful Native Azalea

azalea and honeysuckleMarydel Azalea

R. atlanticum ‘Marydel’ ‘Marydel’ Coastal Azalea, Choptank River Hybrid

This is a native azalea discovered by Polly Hill in Delaware along the Choptank River near the town of Marydel. For more details about this delightful plant, see this interesting article about the Choptank River Hybrids. This spring bloomer touts gorgeous pink fragrant flowers. Its compact size makes it a welcome addition to any garden. Give it dappled light and moist, acid well drained soil. You won’t be disappointed.

Rarefindnursery in Jackson, NJ has an impressive collection of native azaleas and Rhododendrons; they deliver exceptional specimens via mail order. I bought two Choptank Hybrids and was impressed with the specimens that arrived at my door; they are thriving in my garden. To learn more about native azaleas, try American Azaleas, by L. Clarence Towe.

For a spectacular display of native azaleas, don't forget to visit the US National Arboretum this spring.


Photos W&OD Trail, Arlington-Louise Volintine 2004

About Garden-Worthy Plants

Not sure which plants are best for your garden? Want to use natives but worry about choosing the wrong ones?

Call Valentine-Gardening to learn about other garden-worthy plants and which ones will do best in your garden. You can reach Louise at 703-300-1499, or send Louise an email. Don't forget our many other services that can benefit you and your garden.