Home & Garden Garden 15 of the Fastest-Growing Native Trees By David M. Kuchta David M. Kuchta Writer Wesleyan University, University of California, Berkeley David Kuchta, Ph.D. has 10 years of experience in gardening and has read widely in environmental history and the energy transition. An environmental activist since the 1970s, he is also a historian, author, gardener, and educator. Learn about our editorial process Published September 30, 2022 Share Twitter Pinterest Email Craig Lovell / Getty Images Home & Garden Planting Guides Indoor Gardening Urban Farms Insects Fast-growing trees can not only liven up your outdoor space quickly—they are also among the most effective ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The increasingly popular practice of carbon farming can take two forms: Growing short-lived plants to return carbon to the soil, and growing longer-living trees that store carbon in their trunks, stems, leaves, and roots. Beyond sequestering carbon, fast-growing trees are also great for creating privacy or shade. Why Do Some Trees Grow Faster Than Others? Factors such as rainfall, soil quality, and light availability can affect why different trees of the same species grow faster than others. Generally speaking, faster-growing trees live shorter lives than slower-growing trees. It’s an evolutionary trade-off common to both animal and plant species. Faster-growing species mature and reproduce more quickly, then give way to their offspring. Slower-growing, longer-living species have longer periods of reproduction, and their offspring mature more slowly. Access to resources is also a factor: On average, trees in the nutrient-rich tropics grow more quickly and have shorter reproductive cycles than trees in less fertile temperate or arctic climates. Here are 15 fast-growing native trees and shrubs that can capture carbon quickly. The “slowest” of them grow 2 to 3 feet per year, while the fastest can grow over 10 feet per year. Heights, widths, and growth rates are from the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. 1 of 15 Red Maple (Acer rubrum) James Birkbeck Photo-Art / Getty Images A red maple can grow roughly 3 feet a year to a maximum height of 65 feet. It's an easy-growing tree that has a short trunk and a broad, dense, oval canopy that can grow to 40 feet wide. You’ll see it at its finest in spring, when its crimson flowers put on a show, and again in autumn, when its leaves turn red and orange. USDA Growing Zones: 3–9Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: very acidic to slightly alkaline loam, sandy, or clay soil 2 of 15 Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) Douglas Sacha / Getty Images The paper birch tree can grow roughly 3 feet a year, to a maximum height of 65 feet with a canopy 25–35 feet wide. But the tree is most famous for its paper bark, which turns from brown to white and peels off in shreds once the tree reaches 15 feet or so. A paper birch can produce multiple trunks, which have long been used to carve out canoes. One can do worse than be a planter of birches. USDA Growing Zones: 3–6Sun Exposure: full shade to full sunSoil Needs: very acidic to neutral, loam or sandy soil 3 of 15 Pecan Tree (Carya illinoinensis) pelicankate / Getty Images With a pecan tree, you can reduce your carbon footprint and enjoy delicious pie at the same time. A pecan tree can grow roughly 2–3 feet a year, to a maximum height of 100 feet and a canopy 70 feet wide. It may take up to 10 years before a pecan tree bears a nut crop, however. In sheltered places, this otherwise southern species can grow as far north as Massachusetts, though its nut production will be sparser. USDA Growing Zones: 5–9Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: very acidic to slightly alkaline loam or sandy soil 4 of 15 Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides) Michel VIARD / Getty Images A Southern catalpa produces creamy white, purple-spotted, bell-shaped flowers frequented by pollinators. It can grow roughly 2–3 feet a year, to a maximum height of 40 feet with a canopy 30–40 feet wide. Its native habitat is along streams and rivers banks, so it prefers moist soil. Its showy, heart-shaped leaves give the tree a tropical feel, and its tall, straight trunk has long been used for fence posts. USDA Growing Zones: 5–9Sun Exposure: full sun to full shadeSoil Needs: any soil pH and type, as long as it's moist 5 of 15 Leyland Cypress (Cuprocyparis leylandii) Nahhan / Getty Images A Leyland cypress can grow anywhere from 3 to over 10 feet a year, producing a canopy 15–25 feet wide. A natural hybrid between the Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and nootka false cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis), it is one of the fastest-growing evergreen trees. A West Coast native, it serves well as a privacy hedge, and tolerates salt spray well. You’ll be tempted to cut it down for a Christmas tree, but let it grow to its maximum height of 50 feet. USDA Growing Zones: 6–9Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: very acidic to slightly alkaline soil of any type 6 of 15 Tropical Ash (Fraxinus uhdei) Thriving best on hillsides and mountains, the tropical ash is a native of Mexico, Central America, and parts of the southwestern United States, where it is popular as a shade tree. It can grow anywhere from 3 to over 10 feet a year, to a maximum height of 80 feet and a canopy 60 feet wide. It is a prolific seed-producer, so it can become invasive, as it is in Hawaii, so check with a local expert before planting this in your area. USDA Growing Zones: 8–10Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: any soil pH and type 7 of 15 American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) Sergio Amiti / Getty Images An American sweetgum has glossy green leaves that turn red and orange that last long into late fall. In the witch hazel family, it oozes a sweet, aromatic resin when its bark is wounded. It can grow roughly 2–3 feet a year, to a maximum height of 80 feet and a canopy 40 feet wide. Its wood is often used for furniture and woodenware, while its seeds are popular with native wildlife. USDA Growing Zones: 5–10Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: very acidic to slightly alkaline soil of any type Treehugger Tips Use the wood you grow. Don’t let a dead tree decompose and return its carbon to the atmosphere.Plant a variety of species. A stand of trees from a single species runs the risk of blights or insect infestations that can kill off the entire stand. A stand with different tree species actually grows faster than a stand with a single species, because the variety of canopy shapes allows for the maximum absorption of sunlight.Thin your stand. Plants grow faster if they’re not competing with one another for light, water, and nutrients. 8 of 15 Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) pcturner71 / Getty Images The tulip tree is the tallest native tree east of the Mississippi, growing roughly 3 feet a year to a maximum height of 80 feet. It has a pyramid-shaped canopy 40 feet wide at the bottom, which makes it a great shade tree. Its seeds attract squirrels and songbirds, and its hardwood is resistant to splitting, making it useful for furniture, shingles, and boats, among other items. USDA Growing Zones: 5–9Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: very acidic to slightly alkaline loam or clay soil 9 of 15 Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) johnandersonphoto / Getty Images While shorter than some of the giants on this list, a sweet bay magnolia will still grow relatively quickly at roughly 2 feet a year, to a maximum height of at least 50 feet. In the North, it will grow as a broader, shorter tree, where it will produce suckers and become multi-stemmed. In the South, it is more likely to grow as a single tree up to its maximum height. Its 15–25 foot-wide canopy produces fragrant, creamy white, cup-shaped flowers that will become a garden highlight. USDA Growing Zones: 5–10Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: very acidic to neutral loam or sandy soil 10 of 15 Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) Raquel Lonas / Getty Images A loblolly pine is one of the fastest growing southern pines, as it can grow anywhere from 2 to over 10 feet a year, to a maximum height of 90 feet, with a canopy 25–40 feet wide. It is a popular timber tree and can be used as a wind and shade screen in many landscapes. It does best in climates with hot, humid summers and mild winters. USDA Growing Zones: 6–9Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: acidic soil of any type, as long as it remains moist 11 of 15 American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) Alessandro Finco / Getty Images An American sycamore can live up to 500 years, growing to a larger diameter than any other North American hardwood, according to the USDA. It can grow roughly 3 feet a year, to a maximum height of 90 feet and a massive canopy 50–70 feet wide. Its hardwood has long been used for furniture, cabinetry, butchers’ blocks, and dugout canoes, and it can provide a home to many native birds and mammals. USDA Growing Zones: 4–9Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: any type of soil 12 of 15 Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) teine / Getty Images One of North America’s largest hardwood trees, an eastern cottonwood can grow anywhere from 3 to over 10 feet a year, to a maximum height of 100 feet and a canopy 70 feet wide. Its massive silhouette stands out in a field, but it can also be grown along waterways and in floodplains to stabilize the soil. USDA Growing Zones: 3–9Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: very acidic to slightly alkaline soil of any type 13 of 15 Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) Daniela Duncan / Getty Images A live oak can often be found draped by Spanish moss in the South, where it is evergreen. It grows roughly 2–3 feet a year to a maximum height of 80 feet and a canopy 60–100 feet wide—often wider than it is tall, making it a magnificent, graceful shade tree. Plant two rows of them to create a natural arcade. Its acorns feed a variety of mammals and birds. USDA Growing Zones: 8–10Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: any type of soil 14 of 15 Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) annick vanderschelden photography / Getty Images A black locust produces clusters of creamy white flowers in early summer. Its straight trunks are often grown for fence posts, as its wood is strong and durable. It can grow roughly 3 feet a year to a maximum height of 70 feet and a canopy 25–35 feet wide. While native wildlife will snack on young locust shoots and bark, they can be poisonous to livestock. USDA Growing Zones: 4–8Sun Exposure: part shade to full sunSoil Needs: any type of soil 15 of 15 Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) PhotoAlto/Jerome Gorin / Getty Images A giant sequoia (or giant redwood) is a thing of historic beauty, and a grove of them alongside a stream makes a bold statement. It can grow up to 300 feet tall in its native coastal habitat, but outside of that environment, expect it to grow roughly 3 feet a year to a maximum height of 150 feet and a canopy 30–50 feet wide. Its deep bark allows it to resist wildfires and live to an extremely old age. USDA Growing Zones: 6–9Sun Exposure: full sunSoil Needs: relatively neutral soil of any type Why Native Trees? There are non-native species that can grow as fast if not faster than native ones, but native trees also increase an area’s biodiversity by providing shelter, food, and other benefits to an ecosystem. Non-native, fast-growing plants (like bamboo or kudzu) can also be among the most invasive plants in the world, and they do little to support a region’s biodiversity. To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center. View Article Sources Bastin, Jean-Francois, et al. “The global tree restoration potential.” Science 365:6448 (July 5, 2019), 76–79. DOI: 10.1126/science.aax0848. Adamescu, Gabriela S. et al. “Annual cycles are the most common reproductive strategy in African tropical tree communities” Biotropica 50:3 (May 2018), 418–430. doi:10.1111/btp.12561. Williams, Laura J., et al. “Spatial complementarity in tree crowns explains overyielding in species mixture.” Nature Ecology & Evolution 1:4 (April 2017), 1–7. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-016-0063.