Native Trees and Shrubs

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Mark Godfrey)

Trees and shrubs play important roles in ecosystems. They are necessary components of the mid and overstory layers of vegetative environments providing food, shelter, and nesting habitat for wildlife. Benefits of also extend into human-built environments where plants can go to work for us. Read on for specific recommendations of regional native deciduous and evergreen trees, and shrubs to consider adding to your landscape.

Southeast Trees and Shrubs

american-beautyberry

Photo © Forest and Kim Starr

Deciduous Tree: Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) are long-living, sun-loving, coastal trees with low water requirements once established.

Evergreen Tree: Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) is a fast growing pine that tolerates drought and windy conditions.

Shrub: American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), pictured, is a shade-loving shrub with showy fuchsia berries making it ideal foraging habitat for wildlife.

Not all trees and shrubs are created equal. Like with flowering plants, native species of trees and shrubs provide rich ecosystem services in our landscapes. Whenever possible, choosing native species will support the greatest diversity of pollinators, birds, and mammals. Research conducted on suburban properties in the southeastern United States found that properties that replaced native species with nonnative crepe myrtle, Bradford pear, and Japanese maple had, in most cases, decreased species richness of caterpillar open_in_newlarvae–a crucial resource for animals.

Tollhouse Ranch, Caliente, California: Scenic views of the rolling green hills and oak trees of the Tollhouse Ranch located in the heart of the corridor. The Nature Conservancy's purchase of the Tollhouse Ranch from the Rudnick family in 2011 protected th

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Ian Shive)

Some species of trees pack a powerful ecological punch by acting as foundational species, which help to open_in_newdefine ecosystems. Historically, oaks, in the genus Quercus, have been the dominant species in their native regions supporting a plethora of wildlife. This is, in part, due to their open canopy structure, which creates bright conditions in understories that support greater species-richness.open_in_new The leaves are well-loved by many native moth and butterfly caterpillars. The acorns are consumed by foraging herbivores. The canopies are important nesting and perching habitat for birds; and, the tough wood is prime real estate for deer rubbing.

deer-rubbing

Photo © USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Rubbing is performed by male deer who pick sturdy trees for a nice head massage to remove the velvet from their antlers before rutting season. Disease such as Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum)–a fungal pathogen decimating populations of oak trees in California and the Pacific Northwest–have taken their toll on some species of oak trees.

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Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Mark Godfrey)

Oak was [historically] the most abundant genus, ranging from 40% to 70% of total tree composition at the ecological province scale and generally increasing in dominance from east to west across this area.

California and the Pacific Northwest

western-hemlock

Photo © Lynn

Deciduous Tree: Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), found below 5,000 feet, tolerate drought conditions while providing essential habitat with their pollen-rich catkins and acorns.

Evergreen Tree: Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), pictured, is a great flood-tolerant choice for wet areas in the Pacific Northwest as well as providing shelter and nesting sites for birds and foraging habitat for mammals that enjoy the leaves and seeds.

Shrub: Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), known for its now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t berries, is shade-tolerant and produces flowers and fruit that pollinators and birds love.

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Photo © The Nature Conservancy(Rebecca Goodstein)

Like trees, shrubs play an important role in ecosystems. As plants of smaller stature than trees they often occupy mid-story habitat, early stages of ecological succession, and/or specific ecosystems with resource limitations, like the tundra or desert. The presence or absence of certain shrubs significantly influences wildlife. Research conducted in Alaska, for example, found that the types of shrubs (including their height), and their numbers, lured different types of insects, which in-turn attracted different types of migratory songbirds.open_in_new This finding is important as pressures such as habitat loss, environmental degradation, and climate change continue to put pressure on plants and wildlife. Certain shrubs will be more or less resilient to environmental changes and their presence or absence will have an ecological domino effect.

burning-bush

Photo © Danny Barron

Ornamental non native shrubs, such as Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) and Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) are frequently planted in residential neighborhoods, apartments, office buildings, or urban green spaces. These nonnative plants, some of which become invasive, are often selected for their showy foliage or fruit, ability to thrive across planting zones, and/or easy maintenance.

Northeast and Midwest

arrowwood

Photo © Fritz Flohr Reynolds

Deciduous Tree: Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is a tall shade-tolerant favorite amongst native bees with their delicate white flowers that produce valuable fruit for birds.

Evergreen Tree: Eastern White Pine (Pinus stobus) is a tall, soil-type tolerant species whose seeds are a favorite of amongst many species of birds and mammals.

Shrub: Southern Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), pictured, is named for the arrows that were once regularly made from the stems by indigenous cultures, this wildlife favorite produces flowers for pollinators followed by deep purple fruit enjoyed by birds and mammals.

redtwig2

Photo © ophis

Unbenounced to some landscapers, there are often native alternatives that could be a better choice. For example, Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus sericea), found frequently in wet areas throughout the United States as far north as Alaska and as far south as New Mexico has brilliant red foliage and stems with delicate white flowers and berries that support animals. This shrub can support a diversity of wildlife while providing the same showy benefits as nonnative options.

Foodie fact: Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) fruit is edible and high in Vitamin C. Worth the risk of being pricked on the ‘bars’? Some birds (and people) think so.

Rocky Mountains

ponderosa-pine

Photo © Coconino National Forest

Deciduous Tree: Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), is a spectacular fall wonder that will tolerate mild drought and provides valuable food for herbivores like moths and butterflies, as well as humans who can tap the tree for maple syrup.

Evergreen Tree: Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), pictured, is a critically important evergreen found throughout mid to upper elevations in the west and used by birds and other wildlife. Under threat by pine bark beetles.

Shrub: Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus sericea), native to many regions in the United States, is a showy shrub with red stems and fall leaves that feeds pollinators and birds with white spring flowers and subsequent white fruit.

Brooklyn Bridge Park looking towards Manhattan.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Kevin Arnold)

The benefits of native trees and shrubs extend beyond those provided to wildlife and into ecosystem services that improve human-built environments. Trees and shrubs decrease soil erosion, create shade, filter air, offset heating and cooling needs if properly placed,open_in_new and save municipal money by mitigating flood-causing stormwater runoff.open_in_new These qualities benefit human lives in urban areas where properly planted and maintained trees and shrubs are encouraged.

In our Built Environments

Bioswale on Columbus street in Manhattan.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Kevin Arnold)

Shrubs (Deciduous or Evergreen)

  • Reduce the amount of sunlight that hits the building when placed on the south and west walls
  • Mitigation of stormwater in bioswales, rain gardens, medians, or urban green spaces
  • Purification of city water that re-enters water supply after a rain event
  • Evergreen Trees

  • Placed on the north side of a house protect homes from cold wind
  • Provide year-round shelter for songbirds
  • Year-round protection from winds, sunlight, etc.
  • Habitat for cavity nesting
  • Valuable nuts and insects for wildlife
  • Deciduous Trees

  • When placed on the south and west walls can help to keep buildings cool by reducing the amount of sunlight that hits the walls in the summer
  • Habitat for cavity nesting
  • Shade in the summer, warmth in the winter
  • Habitat for herbivores–base of many ecological food webs
  • Fruit, seeds, and insects for wildlife
  • Jasmine Wright enjoying nature

    Photo © The Nature Conservancy

    Trees and shrubs in green spaces, have received increased attention for the possible physiological benefits to the human condition,open_in_new including but not limited to; reduction in stress and anxiety, decreased depression, improved focus and creativity, and revitalization. One study examined stress level by measuring salivary cortisol in people with access to a varying amount of green space. Salivary cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal gland in humans in response to stress and low blood sugar concentrations. This particular study found evidence that cortisol increased (stress increased) when individuals lacked access to green space.open_in_new

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    Photo © The Nature Conservancy(Samantha Pinkham)

    More research is needed, however, to substantiate claims that green spaces help make people healthier.open_in_new While it behooves us to err on the side of caution in overestimating the emotional and physical impact of green spaces on humans, there is little doubt that many people report improved qualitative experience when a street is lined with flowering trees, colorful shrubs, or blooming flowers. Plants bring out the best in city street.

    Desert

    desert-willow

    Photo © Scott Loarie

    Deciduous Tree: Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), while not a true willow, is a beautiful mid-sized tree that is a favorite among hummingbirds.

    Evergreen Tree: Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota), pictured, is a thorny, slow to moderate growing semi-deciduous/evergreen tree with with pink flowers and edible seeds enjoyed by are variety of wildlife.

    Shrub: Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) are long-season bloomers found in arid climates between 2000-5000 feet elevations that benefit numerous wildlife feeding on the nectar, seeds, foliage, and the insects attracted to the flowers.

    The Conservancy’s LEAF and Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program interns finishing a day of monitoring trees impacted by Hurricane Sandy in New York City. The interns worked during the summer of 2015 to monitor the health of the city’s trees in the Br

    Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Karine Aigner)

    Native trees and shrubs add a great deal to our landscapes. Their presence or absence has profound ripple effects on wild and human life. We speak for the trees {and shrubs}, for the trees have no tongues. Plant them, nurture them, sit under them, take a deep breath and enjoy them.

    Add it to your map


    Placing and IDing your trees and shrubs.
    First, add your trees and shrubs as objects to your map by selecting the Toolshed and Second.

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    Photo ©

    Then, make sure to complete the characteristics by clicking on the green Info window. First identify your plant under Basic Information. If you enter the common or scientific name in the second bar, this will connect to the USDA plant database. Select the name that correlates to your plant.

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    Photo ©

    Then, complete the characteristics by telling us about the features of this specific tree or shrub. If you want credit for a specific tree or shrub being native be sure to set

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    Photo ©

    To learn about native fruit-producing trees, click your eco-region below for recommendations of plants to consider:
    Southeast
    Rocky Mountains
    Pacific Mixed Forest
    Desert
    Northeast and Midwest
    California Chaparral

    Check-out this article to learn more about the specific habitat feature evergreens provide to our landscapes.

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