The Most Common North American Hardwood Trees

Common North American Hardwood Trees, History and Habitat

common North American Hardwood Trees illustration

Treehugger / Hilary Allison

Hardwood trees usually have broad, flat leaves as opposed to coniferous, needled, or scaled tree foliage. Another name for a hardwood tree is, appropriately, broadleaf. You can easily identify a hardwood from a conifer.

Most, but not all, hardwoods are deciduous, perennial plants which are normally leafless for some time during the year. Notable exceptions are the evergreen magnolias and American holly trees which maintain leaves longer than a year.

Although these trees are often called hardwoods, wood hardness varies among the hardwood species. Some may actually be softer than many coniferous softwoods.

Let's take a look at the most common angiosperms, otherwise known as deciduous hardwoods.

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Alder, Red

Red alder tree.

heckepics / Getty Images

Red alder is the largest native alder species in North America with a range confined to the western United States and Canada. It is also the most extensively utilized of any native alder species. Red alder trees invade clearings or burned-over areas and form temporary forests. Over time, red alders build up the soil with their copious litter and enrich it with nitrogen compounds formed by symbiotic bacteria that live in little nodules on their roots. Red alder stands are eventually succeeded by Douglas fir, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce.

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Ash, Green

Green alder tree or Fraxinus pennsylvanica showing foliage and fruit.

seven75 / Getty Images

Green ash is the most widely distributed of all the American ashes. Naturally a moist bottomland or stream bank tree, it is hardy to climatic extremes. The large seed crops provide food to many kinds of wildlife. Green ash is seriously threatened in some areas, particularly Michigan, by the emerald ash borer, a beetle introduced accidentally from Asia, to which it has no natural resistance.

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Ash, White

White ash tree with leaves that turn red in the fall.

4sunnydays / Getty Images

The name White ash derives from the blueish white undersides of the leaves. It is similar in appearance to the Green ash, making identification difficult. White ash is widely grown as an ornamental tree in North America. Cultivars selected for superior fall color include 'Autumn Applause' and 'Autumn Purple.'

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Aspen, Quaking

Quaking aspen trees bear golden leaves during autumn.

Scott T. Smith / Getty Images

The name quaking aspen references the quaking or trembling of the leaves that occur in even a slight breeze due to the flattened petioles. Aspens do produce seeds but seldom grow from them. Aspen propagates itself primarily through root sprouts, and extensive clonal colonies are common. It is a very important keystone hardwood tree throughout the western American states and stunningly beautiful in Autumn.

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Beech, American

American Beech trees in a forest.

Photos by R A Kearton / Getty Images

The American beech is a shade-tolerant species, favoring the shade more than other trees, and commonly found in forests in the final stage of succession called a climax forest. Although American beech wood is heavy, hard, tough and strong, the tree is typically left during lumbering and often left uncut to grow. As a result, many areas today still have extensive groves of old beeches.

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Basswood, American

A bee on the flower of an American Basswood tree.

Jeremy Christensen / Getty Images

American basswood is dominant in the sugar maple-basswood association most common in western Wisconsin and central Minnesota. It can occur as far east as New England and southern Quebec where the soils are mesic with relatively high pH. Basswood is a prolific sprouting tree and can even form clumps from stumps. Basswood flowers draw hordes of bees and other insects. It has been called the "humming tree."

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Birch, Paper

Paper birch peeling bark

Dhatier / Wikimedia Commons

Paper birch is a pioneer species and is first in after a forest disturbance. It needs high nutrient soils and a lot of sunlight. The bark is highly weather-resistant. Often, the wood of a downed paper birch will rot away leaving the hollow bark intact. This easily recognized and peeling birch bark is a winter staple food for moose even though the nutritional quality is poor. Still, the bark is important to wintering moose because of its sheer abundance.

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Birch, River

Peeling bark and green leaves on a river birch tree.

F.D. Richards / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

While river birch's native habitat is wet ground, it will grow on higher land, and its bark is quite distinctive, making it a favored ornamental tree for landscape use. A number of cultivars have very attractive bark and selected for garden planting, including 'Heritage' and 'Dura Heat.' Native Americans used the wild birch's boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup, and the inner bark as a survival food.

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Birch, Yellow

Detail shot of a yellow birch tree.

simona flamigni / Getty Images

The name "yellow birch" reflects the color of the tree's distinctive bark. Betula alleghaniensis is the provincial tree of Québec, where it is commonly called merisier, a name which in France is used for the wild cherry. Yellow birch thrives in moist woodlands and often seen on root stilts that have developed from seedlings that have grown on and over rotting stumps.

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Boxelder Maple

Boxelder tree in the fall with pods hanging from branches.

Andrey Zharkikh / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The names "Box Elder" and "Boxelder Maple" are based on the similarity of its whitish wood to that of boxwood and the similarity of its pinnately compound leaves with those of some species of elder. The less than "respectable" maple is not particularly desired in the landscape because of rapid trunk rotting, prolific sprouting and branch shedding. Still, it has been planted in cities and on farms because of its rapid growth.

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Butternut tree or white walnut trunk with large branches.

Steve C. / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Juglans cinerea, commonly known as butternut or white walnut, is a species of walnut native to the eastern United States and southeast Canada. The nut, once plentiful, is now rarely seen. If you find a supply, you have found a nut with the highest oil content and highest food value of all the walnuts and hickories. Butternut is seriously threatened by an introduced canker disease called ​Melanconis. In some areas, 90% of the Butternut trees have been killed. Some isolated single trees are surviving.

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Cherry, Black

Grey bark of a black cherry tree.

Wendy Cutler / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The black cherry is a pioneer species. In the Midwest, it is seen growing mostly in old fields with other sunlight loving species, such as black walnut, black locust, and hackberry. It is a moderately long-lived tree, with ages of up to 258 years known. Black cherry is prone to storm damage with branches breaking easily but any resulting decay progresses slowly. It is the largest native cherry and one of the most abundant wild fruit trees.

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Cottonwood, Black

A detailed shot of a Black Cottonwood tree trunk.

dawnhanna / Getty Images

Black cottonwood, also known as western balsam poplar or California poplar, is a deciduous broadleaf tree species native to the upper western North America. It is the largest North American species in the Willow family and was the first tree species to be gene sequenced. The Balm-of-Gilead poplar tree is an ornamental clone and hybrid of this tree.

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Cottonwood, Eastern

A shot looking up at an Eastern Cottonwood tree.

teine / Getty Images

Eastern cottonwood typically lives 70 to 100 years. Trees with superior genetics and located in a good growing environment.can potentially live 200 to 400 years. The leaf is unique, some saying it looks like an "Egyptian pyramid, with its coarse teeth as stone steps." Eastern cottonwood has fast growth and a spreading root system that will control erosion but will also damage pavement and clog sewers. It is normally seen along the larger river systems.

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Cucumber Magnolia

A yellow flowering magnolia tree.

magicflute002 / Getty Images

Cucumber magnolia is one of the largest magnolias and one of the cold-hardiest. It is a large forest tree of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada (Ontario) but become smaller in the southern range. It is a tree that tends to occur singly as scattered specimens, rather than in groves. Cucumbertree is an excellent shade tree for parks and gardens and gets its common name for the color and shape of unique fruit that resembles a cucumber.

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Dogwood, Flowering

A flowering dogwood tree with white flowers in the spring.

Photos by R A Kearton / Getty Images

Flowering dogwood is one of the most popular ornamental landscape trees in eastern North America. They are usually displayed beneath large oaks or pines, both in the wild and as an ornamental. Dogwoods are among the earliest springtime blooming trees. With its dense crown, flowering dogwood provides good shade, and due to its small stature, it is useful in the smallest yards. This beloved tree is the state tree of Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia.

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Elm, American

Green leaves against a trunk of an American Elm Tree.

Chesapeake Bay Program / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

American elm has long been very popular as a street or avenue tree but never really took to parks and cities. It is now being replaced by better trees like London planetree (Platanus X acerfolia) and Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata). Once extensively planted as a shade tree, Dutch elm disease has killed many of these. Isolated trees seem to be less susceptible to the disease while mass plantings tend to exacerbate the problems.

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Elm, Rock

A close-up shot of rock elm leaves and trunk.

JDMcGreg / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Rock elm or cork elm is a deciduous tree native primarily to the Midwestern United States and along the prairie and forest edge. The wood is the hardest and heaviest of all elms. It is also very strong and takes a high polish which offers a wide range of uses, notably shipbuilding, furniture, agricultural tools, and musical instruments.

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Elm, Slippery

Green leaves of a Slippery Elm.

Kent McFarland / Flicker / CC BY-NC 2.0

Slippery elm is reputedly less susceptible to Dutch elm disease than other North American elms but is severely damaged by the Elm Leaf Beetle. Slippery elm is one of the smallest native North American elms but with one of the largest leaves. The tree never grows in pure stands. The tree has a slimy (slippery) inner bark, tastes like licorice and it has some food and medicinal value.

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Trunk and leaves of a Hackberry Tree.

Mary Ann Daly / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Hackberry is easily distinguished by its cork-like bark with wart-like protuberances. The leaves are distinctly asymmetrical and coarse-textured. It produces small (edible) berries that turn orange-red to dark purple. The wood resembles elm but is difficult to work, rots easily and is a bad choice for planting in the landscape.

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Hickory, Bitternut

A detailed shot of flowers and leaves on a Bitternut Hickory.

weisschr / Getty Images

Bitternut hickory is probably the most abundant and most uniformly distributed of all the hickories. Bitternut hickory grows in moist mountain valleys along streambanks and in swamps. Although it is usually found on wet bottomlands, it grows on dry sites and also grows well on poor soils low in nutrients. Because bitternut hickory wood is hard and durable, it is used for furniture, paneling, dowels, tool handles, and ladders.

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Hickory, Mockernut

A mockernut Hickory tree with yellow leaves in the fall.

Melissa McMasters / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Mockernut hickory is very common and abundant southward through Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida but grows from Massachusetts south to northern Florida, west to Kansas and Texas and up to Iowa. The tree grows largest in the lower Ohio River Basin. Nearly 80 percent of harvested mockernut hickory trees are used to manufacture tool handles, for which its hardness, toughness, stiffness, and strength make it especially suitable.

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Hickory, Pignut

Green leaves of a Pignut Hickory tree.

Katja Schulz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Pignut hickory (Carya glabra) is a common but not abundant species in the oak-hickory forest association in the Eastern United States. The range of pignut hickory covers nearly all of eastern United States. Pignut hickory frequently grows on dry ridgetops and side slopes throughout its range but it is also common on moist sites, particularly in the mountains and Piedmont.

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Hickory, Shagbark

A detailed shot of the trunk of a Hickory Shagbark.

Kevin Faccenda / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is a common hickory in the eastern United States and southeast Canada. Shagbark hickory has the most distinctive of all the hickory bark because of its loose-plated bark. Its hickory nut is edible and has a very sweet taste. Shagbark hickory wood is used for smoking meat and was used for making the bows of Native Americans of the northern area.

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Hickory, Shellbark

Green leaves on a Hickory Shellback.

Plant Image Library / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Shellbark hickory nuts are the largest of all hickory nuts and are sweet and edible. Wildlife and people harvest most of the nuts and those remaining produce seedling trees readily. This hickory is distinguished from other hickories by large leaves, large nuts and orange twigs.

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Holly, American

Branches and berries on an American Holly Tree.

huggy1 / Getty Images

American holly typically grows as an understory tree in forests. It is rare in the north of its range (New England and New York) and always small there. It is abundant further south on the southern coast and in the Gulf states, reaching its greatest size on the bottomlands of southern Arkansas and eastern Texas. Holly boughs and leaves are popular Christmas decorations and inseparably connected with the Christmas season. A North American custom is to use holly and mistletoe for decorating of homes and churches. The American holly is the state tree of Delaware.

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Locust, Black

Black Locust trees in bloom.

xalanx / Getty Images

Black locust has nitrogen-fixing bacteria on its root system. For this reason, it can grow on poor soils, increase soil fertility and is an early colonizer of disturbed areas. The wood is extremely hard, resistant to rot and longlasting, making it prized for fence posts and small watercraft. As a young man, it is reported that Abraham Lincoln spent a lot of time splitting rails and fence posts from black locust logs. Black locust attracts bees and is a major honey plant in the eastern United States. Having been transplanted in France, it is the source of the renowned French acacia monofloral honey.

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Magnolia, Southern

A souther magnolia with a white flower.

Mario Widmer / EyeEm / Getty Images

The Southern magnolia or bull bay, is a magnolia native to the southeastern United States, from coastal Virginia south to central Florida, and west to East Texas. The tree is a very popular ornamental tree throughout the southeastern United States, grown for its attractive foliage and flowers. The Southern magnolia is the state tree of Mississippi and the state flower of Mississippi and Louisiana.

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Maple, Bigleaf

Leaves and trunk of a Big Leaf Mapl

Wendy Cutler / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Acer macrophyllum (bigleaf maple or Oregon maple) is a large deciduous tree in the genus Acer. It is native to western North America, mostly near the Pacific coast, from southernmost Alaska south to southern California. Bigleaf maple is the only commercially important maple of the Pacific Coast region.

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Maple, Red

Red maple leaves against a thick branch.

Laura Rometta / EyeEm / Getty Images

Acer rubrum or red maple is one of the most common and widespread deciduous trees of eastern North America. Red maple is adaptable to a very wide range of site conditions, perhaps more so than any other tree in eastern North America. Its ability to thrive in a large number of habitats is largely due to its ability to produce roots to suit its site from a young age. Red maple is widely grown as an ornamental tree in parks and in the landscape. Dozens of red maple varieties have been developed and the tree is prized for its fall color.

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Maple, Silver

Leaves of a Silver Maple Tree hanging on a branch.

seven75 / Getty Images

Silver maple is a weak tree but often introduced in the landscape to the dismay of many who plant it. It can be saved for planting in wet areas or where nothing else will thrive. The maple is also aggressive, growing into septic tank drain fields and undermines water and sewer pipes. Silver maple is closely related to the red maple and can hybridize with it, the hybrid being known as the Freeman maple (Acer x freemanii). The Freeman maple is a popular ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, combining the fast growth of silver maple with the less brittle wood.

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Maple, Sugar

A Sugar Maple tree with yellow leaves in the fall.

Enn Li Photography / Getty Images

Sugar maple is a maple native to the hardwood forests of northeastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario, and south to Georgia and Texas. Sugar maple is an immensely important species to the ecology of many forests in North America. Sugar maples engage in a "hydraulic lift," drawing water from lower soil layers and exuding that water into upper, drier soil layers. This not only benefits the tree itself but also many other plants growing around it. Sugar Maple is the major source of sap for making maple syrup and prized for furniture and flooring.

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Oak, Black

A branch and leaves of a Black Oak tree.

J. Maughn / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Black oak has readily hybridized with other members of the red oak group of oaks, being one parent in at least a dozen different named hybrids. This single species' compatibility is fairly uncommon in the Quercus genus group. Black oak is seldom used for landscaping. The inner bark of the black oak contains a yellow pigment called quercitron, which was sold commercially in Europe until the 1940s.

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Oak, Bur

A branch with leaves of a Bur Oak tree.

Bruce Kirchoff / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa, sometimes spelled burr oak, is a species of oak in the white oak group. Bur oak typically grows in the open, away from a forest canopy. For this reason, it is an important tree on the eastern prairies, where it is often found near waterways in more forested areas, where there is a break in the canopy. It is an excellent landscaping tree.

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Oak, Cherrybark

A large Cherrybark Oak tree.

Bruce Kirchoff / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cherrybark oak (Q. pagodifolia) is a fairly common large tree of bottomland forests, similar to the upland Southern red oak (Q. falcata), of which it was formerly considered a variety. The cherrybark tree has heavy strong wood and is considered a commercially desirable tree.

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Oak, Laurel

Leaves of a Laurel Oak against the trunk of a tree.

Duane Burdick / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Laurel oak or (Quercus laurifolia) is commonly used as an ornamental tree in landscaping because of its fast growth and pleasing appearance; it is planted with little regard to soil type. The Latin "laurifolia" means laurel-leaved or having leaves like a laurel. Swamp laurel oak grows rapidly and usually matures in about 50 years, which has led to its wide use as ornamental landscaping.

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Oak, Live

Angel Oak tree on Johns Island near Charleston, South Carolina

Josh LeClair / Getty Images

Live oak is a symbolic tree of the Deep South. Quercus virginiana has a squat and leaning form with a large diameter tapering trunk. The Angel Oak near Charleston, South Carolina, is a live oak that has been determined to be the oldest tree in the eastern United States at 1400 years. Live oak is the state tree of Georgia and a favorite in the coastal landscape.

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Oak, Oregon White

Oregon white oak leaves against a field.

George Wesley & Bonita Dannells / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Oregon white oak is the only native oak in British Columbia and Washington and the principal one in Oregon. Though commonly known as Garry oak in British Columbia, elsewhere it is usually called white oak, post oak, Oregon oak, Brewer oak, or shin oak. Its scientific name was chosen by David Douglas to honor Nicholas Garry, secretary and later deputy governor of the Hudson Bay Company, 1822-35.

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Oak, Overcup

Leaves of an Overcup Oak Tree.

mogollon_1 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Overcup oak is a medium-sized deciduous oak that is valued as a "white oak" wood. Commercial overcup oak varies extremely with every site, fire damage, and degree of insect and decay defect. It is a quite ordinary oak with a unique acorn. The large acorns with hardened cups that enclose all or most of the nut are diagnostic.

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Oak, Pin

Leaves of a Pin Oak tree.

Michel VIARD / Getty Images

Pin oak is one of the most overused landscape oaks in the midwest and the eastern United States. The oak is popular due to an attractive pyramidal shape and straight, dominant trunk, even on older specimens and because of availability. A lot of that popularity has been challenged because of iron-deficiency chlorosis, persistent brown leaves on the tree into the winter, and a ragged look with the stubby twig "pins" that stand out and is a negative to some.

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Oak, Post

Post Oak leaves on a tree.

Mary PK Burns / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

The name post oak refers to the use of the wood of this tree for fence posts. Its wood, like that of the other white oaks, is hard, tough and rot-resistant. The "Maltese cross" form of the distinctive post oak leaf is a key identifier. Both the post oak and the blackjack oak are the major trees of the "Cross Timbers" area in Texas and Oklahoma. This area comprises the border where trees transition to prairie grassland.

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Oak, Northern Red

Shot upwards of a Northern Red Oak tree.

Zen Rial / Getty Images

Any oak with pointed, bristle-tipped leaf lobes belongs to the red oak group, including Northern red oak. Red oak is the fastest growing of all oaks and when on the right site, one of the largest and longest-lived. Northern red oak is an easily transplanted, popular shade tree with good form and dense foliage. Northern red oak is well adapted to periodic fires.

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Oak, Nuttall

Detail shot of a Nuttall Oak Leaf.

Greg Blick / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Nuttall oak (Quercus nuttallii), not distinguished as a species until 1927, is also called red oak, Red River oak, and pin oak. It is one of the few commercially important species found on poorly drained clay flats and low bottoms of the Gulf Coastal Plain and north in the Mississippi and Red River Valleys. The acorn or winter buds identify Nuttall oak, easily confused with pin oak (Q. palustris). The lumber is often cut and sold as red oak. Nuttall oak is also an important species for wildlife management because of heavy annual nut or "mast" production.

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Oak, Scarlet

Scarlet red leaves of an Oak tree against a blue sky.

Katja Schulz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) is best known for its brilliant autumn color. It is a large rapid-growing tree of the eastern United States, found on a variety of soils in mixed forests, especially light sandy and gravelly upland ridges and slopes. Best development is in the Ohio River Basin. Scarlet oak is a popular shade tree and has been widely planted in the United States and Europe.

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Oak, Shumard

Orange fall leaves on a Shumard Oak Tree.


Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) is one of the largest Southern red oaks. Other common names are spotted oak, Schneck oak, Shumard red oak, southern red oak, and swamp red oak. It is a lowland tree and grows scattered with other hardwoods on moist, well-drained soils associated with large and small streams. It grows moderately fast and produces acorns every 2 to 4 years that are used by wildlife for food. This tree makes a handsome shade tree.

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Oak, Southern Red

A majestic Southern Red Oak tree in a field.

mogollon_1 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

All the red oaks, including Southern red oak, are the most prized hardwood species in the United States. The uses of oak include almost everything that mankind has ever derived from trees - timber, food for man and animals, fuel, watershed protection, shade and beauty, tannin, and extractives.

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Oak, Water

The leaves and trunk of a Water Oak tree.

Katja Schulz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The water oak is also called possum oak or spotted oak. The oak's habitat is commonly found along southeastern North America watercourses and lowlands on silty clay and loamy soils. Water oak is a medium-sized but rapid-growing tree and is often abundant as second growth on cutover lands. Water oak is planted widely as a street and shade tree in southern communities.

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Oak, White

Green leaves of a white oak tree.

Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

The white oak family members also include the bur oak, chestnut oak, and Oregon white oak. This oak is immediately recognized by rounded lobes plus the lobe tips never have bristles like red oak. White oak is less favored than red oak because it is difficult to transplant and has a slow growth rate.

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Oak, Willow

Leaves of a Willow Oak tree against a blue sky.

Marina Denisenko / Getty Images

The medium to large willow oak has unique willow-like foliage and is known for its rapid growth and long life. A favored shade tree, willow oak is widely planted as an ornamental. It is also a good species to plant along margins of fluctuating-level reservoirs.

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Osage Orange

Fruit and leaves of an Osage Orange tree.

Fascinadora / Getty Images

The osage orange creates a dense canopy, making it useful as a windbreak. Young osage orange trees can develop an upright, pyramidal habit and the fruit is unique, rough textured, heavy green balls which ripen to yellow-green and fall in October and November. The large, three to six-inch long by two to three-inch-wide, shiny, dark green leaves turn bright yellow in fall and are quite noticeable in the northeastern United States.

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Paulownia, Royal

A Paulownia tomentosa or Royal Empress Tree in bloom.

Linda De Volder / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Royal paulownia is an introduced ornamental that has become well established in North America. It is also known as the "princess-tree," empress-tree, or paulownia. Paulownia has a tropical look with very large catalpa-like leaves although the two species are not related.

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A Pecan Tree trunk and leaves in sunlight.

Angela Guthrie / Getty Images

Pecan is, economically, the most important member of the hickory family, of the genus Carya. Pecan production is a multi-million dollar business and one of North America's favorite nuts. Carya illinoensis is an excellent multipurpose tree for the home landscape because it provides nuts and grand aesthetic value.

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Orange persimmons on a tree in an orchard.

Thanh Thuy / Getty Images

Common persimmon is an interesting, somewhat irregularly shaped native small to medium tree. Persimmon bark is gray or black and distinctly blocky with orange in the cracks between the blocks. Except for cleaning up the messy fruit if it falls on a patio or sidewalk, persimmon maintenance is quite easy and it could be planted more. Locate it where the slimy fruit will not fall on sidewalks and cause people to slip and fall.

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Pink blossoms on a Redbud Tree.

Ali Majdfar / Getty Images

Redbud is a small tree that shines early in spring (one of the first flowering plants) with leafless branches of magenta buds and pink flowers. Quickly following the flowers come new green leaves which turn a dark, blue-green and are uniquely heart-shaped. Cercis canadensis often has a large crop of 2-4 inch seedpods that some find unappealing in the urban landscape.

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Sassafras leaf against the tree's large trunk.

Per Verdonk / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Young sassafras seedlings are usually unlobed but older trees add unique mitten-shaped leaves with two or three lobes on other leaves. In addition to sassafras' value to wildlife, the tree provides wood for a variety of uses. Tea is brewed from the bark of roots and leaves are used is as a thickener in soups and sauces.

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Bright red Sourwood tree leaves in a forest.

krblokhin / Getty Images

Sourwood is one of the first trees to turn colors in the eastern forest. By late August, it is common to see foliage of young sourwood trees along roadsides beginning to turn red. The fall color of sourwood is a striking red and orange and associated with blackgum and sassafras.

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The star shaped leaves of a Sweetgum tree against bark.

Mimi Ditchie Photography / Getty Images

Sweetgum is sometimes called redgum, probably because of the red color of the older heartwood and its red fall leaves. Sweetgum grows from Connecticut southward throughout the east to central Florida and eastern Texas. Sweetgum is easy to identify in both the summer and in winter. Look for the star-shaped leaf as foliage grows in the spring and look for the dried seed balls in and under the tree.

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Sycamore, American

Shot of trunk and leaves of an American Sycamore tree against a blue sky.

ElenaGa / Getty Images

American sycamore is a massive tree and can attain the largest trunk diameter of any of the eastern U.S. hardwoods. The native sycamore has a grand branch display and its bark is unique among all trees - you can always identify a sycamore just by looking at the bark. The alternate maple-looking leaves are large and also unique to those familiar with sycamore.

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Tupelo, Black

A blackgum tree changing color in a forest.

Nicholas A. Tonelli / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Black gum trees have moderate growth rate and longevity and are an excellent food source for wildlife, fine honey trees, and handsome ornamentals. Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is divided into two commonly recognized varieties, typical black tupelo (var. sylvatica) and swamp tupelo (var. biflora). They are usually identifiable by their differences in habitats: black tupelo on light-textured soils of uplands and stream bottoms, swamp tupelo on heavy organic or clay soils of wet bottomlands.

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Tupelo, Water

Nyssa aquatica trees in a swamp.

NicoleCastleBrookus / Getty Images

Water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), is a large, long-lived tree that grows in southern swamps and flood plains where its root system is periodically underwater. It has a swollen base that tapers to a long, clear bole and often occurs in pure stands. Many kinds of wildlife eat the fruits and water tupelo is a favored honey tree.

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Walnut, Black

A branch and green leaves yellowing of a Black Walnut tree.

Karel Bock / Getty Images

The black walnut used to be a very common old-growth forest tree. Black walnut wood is now relatively scarce and highly coveted, used mainly for high-quality woodworking and produces a delicious nut. The tree hates shade (intolerant) and best growth occurs in a sunny open location and a moist rich soil, common along stream banks in its native habitat.

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Willow, Black

A Black Willow tree against a dark cloudy sky.

Robert Brainz / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Black willow is named for its dark gray-brown bark. The tree is the largest and most important New World willow and is one of the first trees to bud in the spring.

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Yellow Poplar

The trunk and canopy of a Tulip poplar.

Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

Yellow poplar or tulip poplar is the tallest hardwood tree in North America with one of the most perfect and straight trunks in the forest. The yellow poplar tree has very unique leaves with four lobes separated by rounded notches.

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