Trees of North America and Canada
Red Maple or (Acer rubrum)
The red maple seldom lives longer than 150 years, making it a short to medium life–span tree. It reaches maturity in 70 to 80 years and is the state tree of Rhode Island in the United States. It is one of the first trees to show off red flowers in the spring and displays a most magnificent scarlet colour in the fall. This is a fast growing tree.
The red maple transplants easily at any age and grows into a medium to large tree of about 12m – 21m (40 to 70 feet). It occupies one of the largest eastern north-south ranges in North America–from Canada to the tip of Florida. Red maple is adaptable to a very wide range of site conditions, perhaps more so than any other tree in eastern North America. It can be found growing in swamps, on poor dry soils, and most anywhere in between.
The leaves of the red maple especially when dead or wilted are highly toxic to horses. The nature of the toxin is currently unknown but it is believed to be an oxidant due to its destruction of red blood cells, thus causing the blood to be unable to properly transport oxygen; a condition otherwise known as acute hemolysis.
The red maple is also used for the production of maple syrup, though the hard maples and the black maple are more commonly used. One study compared the sap and syrup from the Sugar Maple with those of the red maple, as well as those of the Silver Maple, Boxelder, and Norway maple; all were found to be equal in sweetness, flavour, and quality. However, the buds of the red maple and other soft maples emerge much earlier in the spring than the sugar maple. After sprouting the chemical makeup of the sap changes, imparting an undesirable flavor to the syrup. This being the case, red maple can only be tapped for syrup before the buds emerge, making the season very short.
Yellow Poplar or (Liriodendron tulipifera)
The yellow poplar, also known as the tulip poplar or tulipwood, is the state tree of Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky in the United States. The yellow poplar belongs to the genus of the Magnolia family. The flower is the size of a common garden tulip with two-toned orange and yellow petals. It displays a prominent yellow fall colour and is a major part of the fall landscape throughout eastern North America. Yellow poplar is a fast grower on optimum sites. It quickly makes a lovely tree with some shade.
The yellow poplar is a flowering tree that loves deep, rich, well drained soil. The tree grows into a tall but columnar tree of 21m – 27m (70 to 90 feet). In the Appalachian cove forests, trees of 45m – 50m (150 to 165 feet) in height are common, and trees from 50m to nearly 54m (166 – 180 feet) are also found. This tree is very tolerant against disease and insects. It grows and does extremely well under the right conditions.
The yellow poplar is fine grained and stable. It is easy to work and commonly used for cabinet and furniture framing. The wood is only moderately rot resistant, and is not commonly used in shipbuilding, but has found some recent use in light craft construction. The name canoewood probably refers to the trees’ use for construction of dugout canoes by Eastern Native Americans, for which its fine grain and large trunk size is eminently suited.
The yellow poplar or tulipwood leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.
White Oaks – (Quercus sp)
The Oak is the state tree of Connecticut, Washington D.C. (District of Columbia), Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland and New Jersey. You can find an oak species growing naturally in 48 states in America. Specimens are known to have lived over 600 years.
Although called the white oak it is very unusual to find an individual tree with white bark; the usual colour is an ashen gray. In forests it reaches magnificent heights. In the open it develops into a massive broad-topped tree with great limbs striking out at wide angles, thus making an outstanding shade tree. However, it does not tolerate urban conditions well due to intolerance of soil compaction and changes in soil levels. It may thrive in residential neighborhoods where protected from such change.
Oaks are found everywhere and are the most popular tree in the United States. In fact, the oak has been selected as America’s national tree by the National Arbor Day Foundation.
White oak is relatively rot resistant. It was the signature wood used in mission oak furniture by Gustav Stickley in the Craftsman style in the Arts and Crafts movement. White oak is used extensively in Japanese martial arts for certain weapons.
Flowering Dogwood or (Cornus Florida)
Flowering dogwood is a small deciduous tree growing up to 10 m (32 feet) high; sometimes wider than it is tall when mature, with a trunk diameter of up to 30 cm (12 inches). The flowering dogwood is the state tree of Virginia and Missouri and the state flower of North Carolina. Flowering dogwood opens white flowers in April, usually before the leaf display and will show up any landscape plant. If planted on a hospitable site and under a canopy of larger trees, the tree grows fast, sleek and slim – it is less sleek and huskier when grown in open sun.
Dogwood grows readily from seed but is not easy to transplant. Always move the dogwood with a complete root ball in the early spring and place the transplant a little high in the planting hole. Understory dogwood is a medium tree of about 12m (40 feet) with wispy stems. The dogwood occupies a large eastern north-south range in North America – from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The tree is not very hardy if planted beyond its genetic home region so pick a local variety.
Other names now rarely used include American Dogwood, Florida Dogwood, Indian Arrowwood, Cornelian Tree, White Cornel, False Box, and False Boxwood. This species has in the past been used in the production of inks, scarlet dyes, and as a quinine substitute. The hard, dense wood has been used for products such as golf club heads, mallets, wooden rake teeth, tool handles, jeweler’s boxes and butcher blocks.
American Sycamore or (Platanus Occidentalis)
A sycamore can grow to massive proportions, typically reaching about 30 to 40 meters (98 to 131 feet) in height and 1.5 to 2 meters (about 5 to 7 feet) in diameter, when left to grow in deep soils. At its tallest, the species has measured up to 51 meters (about 167 feet), and at its widest it has measured nearly 4 meters (about 13 feet) in diameter. Historical specimens over 5 meters (about 16 feet) thick have been reported, but verifying the accuracy of these early accounts is seldom possible.
American sycamore is Indiana’s state tree and the Nation’s most massive broadleaf tree. Be forewarned – the sycamore should only be planted as a single yard specimen or in places where space is not a premium. People love its winter brilliance and it’s creamy, shedding bark and growth potential. The sycamore is able to endure a big city environment and has been extensively planted as a shade tree. It bears transplanting well and grows rapidly. The second oldest tree in the City of Buffalo, New York is a Sycamore at 404 Franklin Street; it has been dated to c. 1700.
Sycamore occupies a north-south range in North America – from Canada to Florida. The tree is very site tolerant and can grow under nearly any condition but is best adapted to creek banks.
American elm or (Lacebark Elm)
The American Elm is a species native to eastern North America, occurring from Nova Scotia, west as far as British Columbia; from northern Alberta at the top of its range, south to Florida and central Texas. It is an extremely hardy tree that can withstand winter temperatures as low as −42 °C (−44 °F).
The American Elm is the state tree of Massachusetts and North Dakota. It is a beautiful tree; it is however subject to getting a serious disease called Dutch elm disease or DED. Resistant tree strains are starting to improve this weak point.
The American elm is the most popular of urban shade trees. It was planted along downtown city streets for decades. In North America, the American elm attains medium to large tree status and grows 18m – 24m (60 to 80 feet) tall. It occupies a north-south range in North America – from Canada to Florida.
Numerous cultivars have been raised, originally for their aesthetic merit but more recently for their resistance to Dutch elm disease. The few disease-resistant selections that have been made available to the public as yet include ‘Valley Forge’, ‘New Harmony’, ‘Princeton’, ‘Jefferson’, and a set of six different clones collectively known as ‘American Liberty’.
River Birch or (Betula Nigra)
River birch’s “Heritage” cultivar was selected as the 2002 Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists. The tree’s wood has very little commercial value but river birch is extremely popular as an ornamental tree. It is hardy for all U.S. climate zones, is fast-growing, nicely forked, and wind and ice resistant. River birch peels in colourful flakes of brown, salmon, peach, orange, and lavender and is a bonus for regions deprived of white birch.
River birch is well named as it loves riparian (wet) zones; it adapts well to such sites and reaches its maximum size in rich alluvial soils of the lower Mississippi Valley. However, the tree is also very heat-tolerant and can survive modest droughts. River birch transplants easily at any age and grows into a medium tree of about 12 to 21 meters (40 to 70 feet). River birch occupies large eastern north-south ranges in North America – from Minnesota to Florida. The tree is very intolerant to shade.
American Holly or (Ilex Opaca)
American holly is a deep-woods species and mid-story tree. It is the state tree of Delaware. The tree was noticed by the Pilgrims who landed in North America the week before Christmas in 1620 on the coast of Massachusetts. This evergreen with prickly leaves and red berries reminded them of English holly which was a symbol of Christmas in England and Europe. American holly is the only native North American holly that attains tree size.
American holly is slow growing but well worth the wait. Actually some cultivars approach 6 inches of growth per year. American holly grows into a small to medium tree of about 12 to 15 meters (40 – 49 feet) tall and optimum growth can be encouraged on moist, highly organic, acidic well drained soil. This holly has a comfortable north-south range in North America that goes from Massachusetts to Florida. The tree needs to be protected from drying winter sun and winds.
Holly is a popular Christmas decoration. In English poetry and English stories the Holly is inseparably connected with the merry-making and greetings which gather around Christmas time. The custom is followed in North America, and holly and mistletoe are widely used for decoration of homes and churches in the festive season.
Redbud or (Cercis Canadensis)
Redbud is a showy but small tree and is the state tree of Oklahoma. Redbud 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.
Redbud grows into a small tree of about 6 m to 9m (20 to 30 feet) tall. Some people find the excess seedpods unappealing in the urban landscape. Not easy to transplant, redbud should be moved in its dormant root ball.
The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees such as blueberry bees and carpenter bees. Short-tongued bees apparently cannot reach the nectar.
In some parts of southern Appalachia, green twigs from the Eastern redbud are used as seasoning for wild game meat such as venison and opossum. Consequently, in these mountain areas the eastern redbud is sometimes known as the Spicewood tree.
The range of the eastern redbud is from New Jersey and southern Pennsylvania and northwest, to southern Michigan; southwest into southeastern Nebraska, south to central Texas, and east to central Florida. A stray population of redbud extends from the Trans-Pecos and South Texas into Mexico.
Eastern white pine (Pinus strobes):
This tree is also known as northern white pine and is one of the most valuable trees in eastern North America. Before the arrival of white men, virgin stands contained an estimated 3.4 billion m³ of lumber. By the late 1800’s most of those vast stands had been logged. Because it is among the most rapid growing northern forest conifers, it is an excellent tree for reforestation projects, landscaping, and Christmas trees and has the distinction of having been one of the more widely planted American trees.
The Eastern White Pine is also the tallest tree in eastern North America. In natural pre-colonial stands it is reported to have grown to as tall as 70 meters (230 ft), at least on rare occasions.
During the age of sail the tall trees with their high quality wood were designated for ship masts; and so many trees were marked in colonial times with the broad arrow, reserving them for the British Royal Navy.
Although white pine was frequently used for flooring in buildings constructed before the Civil War, the wood is soft and consequently you will find cup shaped depressions from normal wear and tear on almost every old white pine floor. George Washington realized this would happen and wisely made his Mount Vernon floors out of yellow pine which is much harder. Pine resin has been used to waterproof baskets, buckets and boats. The sap can be processed to make turpentine. Pine tar is produced by slowly burning pine roots, branches, or small trunks in a partially smothered flame.
Eastern white pine is found across southern Canada from Newfoundland, Anticosti Island, and the Gaspé peninsula of Quebec; west to central and western Ontario and extreme southeastern Manitoba; south to southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa; east to northern Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; and south mostly in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia and northwestern South Carolina. It is also found in western Kentucky, western Tennessee, and Delaware.