American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

American Sweetgum

(Liquidambar styraciflua)

Native to wet sites on the East Coast, this tree adapts well to lawn and park settings.  It is a medium to fast growing tree and will easily reach 50 to 75 feet or more and nearly as wide.  It is conical in shape when young, turning more rounded in old age.

The leaves are 4to 7 inches long, bright glossy green, and star shaped.  The brilliant fall color is breathtaking in shades of green, yellow, scarlet, orange and purple.

Although Sweetgums will grow in a wide variety of sites, it prefers full sun and moist acidic soil.  They have few serious disease or insect problems, culturally, however, its root system is shallow and wide-spreading, and can cause tripping hazards and damage to infrastructure so allow room for growth when planting.  Also, its fruit, commonly called gumballs or sticky balls, can be a liability.  While fun to play with for most kids, they may pose a tripping hazard in the wrong location.  There is now a fruitless variety of this tree available commercially called ‘Rotundiloba’ which can help alleviate this issue.  In the right location, this is a great native species.

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)


Smooth Sumac

(Rhus glabra)

A small, fast growing native, smooth sumac is an ideal plant for troubled soils.  Native to the Eastern United States, it has been cultivated since 1629 and distributed throughout most of the country since then.  Commonly seen along highways and railroad tracks, it is highly tolerant of poor soils and urban pollution.

Today Smooth Sumac and other members of its genus are finding their way into nurseries and gardens.  They can be used as freestanding trees, large shrubs or for mass plantings and borders.  The fact that they are fast growing and yet stay small is a good selling point.  They are highly invasive, however, and must be monitored.

Flowers emerge in June or July, borne in 6 to 10 inch long greenish-yellow panicles.  Hairy red fruits called drupes form in tight upright clusters where the flowers once were persist until winter.  The fruits can be squeezed to make a pleasantly sour drink, often called “Indian Lemonade”.  Although it actually tastes like a sour apple.  White-tailed deer and flying squirrels are particularly fond of the fruits and when tastier foods have become scarce, many birds turn to them as a backup.  The most attractive feature of this plant is its foliage.  The alternate compound leaves can have from 11 to 31 leaflets and grow up to 2 feet long. Medium green in summer, with whitish smooth undersides, the leaves turn brilliant scarlet, red or orange in autumn.  The early and spectacular show is best in full sun, but this tolerant species can do well just about anywhere.

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

A beautiful name for a tree, often considered a noxious weed. In Victoria, Australia, its cultivation is strictly forbidden. Introduced to the U.S. in 1784 from China, it has since naturalized and has been proclaimed as an invasive species in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 10. More tolerant of soot, grime and industrial pollution than almost any other tree, it can grow anywhere in any soil. This can be a problem sometimes when it grows in cracks of sidewalks or parking lots or even dirt filled gutters.

Once rooted, the Tree of Heaven will grow 40 to 70 feet tall with a spread of 30 to 50 feet. The rate of growth is extremely fast, especially when young, growing 4 to 6 feet in a single season. They have the ability to come right back after being cut to the ground due to its deep root system.

The tree does have some attributes besides its incredible tolerance to abuse. Attractive dark green compound leaves consist of 12 or more leaflets and can be over 2 feet long. The bark is grayish with brown and white vertical streaks extending up the trunk to its open and spreading crown. Yellowish-green flowers appear on both male and female trees in June and turn into the yellow –green samaras on the female plants in July. Samaras may turn to orange-red in August and then persist into winter as a pale brown. The wind-blown seeds then very easily take root the next spring.

These trees formerly had no significant pests here in the US, but recently a new invasive called the spotted lantern fly has arrived in the northeast. This extremely aggressive insect primarily feeds on Tree of Heaven, but is not host specific, so when it runs out of its favorite species, it attacks other native trees including fruit trees and grape vines. If you have Tree of Heaven nearby, keep an eye out for this new destructive pest.

Mimosa (Albiza julibrissin)


The Mimosa or Silk-Tree, a native of South Asia, was introduced to North America in 1745, and has adapted well to a wide variety of conditions here in the U.S. It transplants easily and often seeds itself readily, sometimes to the point of being invasive in some areas. It survives a wide range of PH soils and withstands wind and drought. Cold snaps with prolonged periods of weather below freezing, however, will result in injury or death of the plant or parts of it.

Mimosa is a fast grower reaching 20 to 35 feet in height and sometimes wider. It is often multiple stemmed and has a vase shape with a flat top.

The bark is grayish brown and relatively smooth.Both the leaves and flowers have a feathery and tropical look to them adding to their allure in the north. The leaves emerge late in the spring, sometimes causing panic that the tree may have died. The pink bottle-brush like flowers emerge in June or July presenting a unique look in the northeastern U.S.

Crimson King Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

The Crimson King is the most famous cultivar of the Norway Maples. It is noted for its maroon leaves that last all summer. It was introduced to the United States in 1948 from France.

Commonly planted as a street tree, it is usually intermixed with the green varieties to avoid a dark and somber appearance. The deep colored leaves create a dense shade, making it hard to grow grass or other plants underneath. A shallow surface root system further adds to these difficulties.

Crimson King grows slower and matures at a smaller size than the green-leafed varieties and is more sensitive to some insects and diseases. It tolerates partial shade and a wide range of soils, but it doesn’t like wet feet, so avoid poor drainage areas. At maturity, it will reach 40 feet tall by 50 feet wide, but usually is found smaller.

Avoid excessive pruning to reduce possibility of sun scald, prune in winter and never top! This is a bad practice for all trees as it not only ruins the aesthetic beauty of the tree, but also opens it up to sun scald, diseases and insects. Crimson King maples are highly intolerant of harsh pruning.
When planted in the right location Crimson King maples can be a beautiful and hardy addition to any landscape, providing a little splash of color in your verdant forest.

Flowering Crabapple (Malus sp.)



The leaves are 1 to 2 inches long and are green to reddish green in color.  Fall color can be nice shades of yellow and orange, but it depends on the cultivar.  There are currently over 700 named cultivars and varieties worldwide.  Some are propagated for their flowering, fruiting or fall color, but many are chosen for their disease resistance.

The fruits usually offer better color than the leaves, coming in various hues of yellow, red and orange.  They come as small as 3/8 inches in diameter and as large as 2 inches in diameter.  The crabapples develop in the summer and some persist into winter or until the birds eat them.  They have little crop value to humans, but some can be used to make jellies.

While versatile and attractive, Crabapples can also be high maintenance.  There are several insect problems that can be an issue, but rust, scab and fire blight diseases are usually the more prevalent issues to deal with.  These diseases can be managed with good sanitation, proper spacing, and pruning, as well as fungicide treatments in the early spring.


London Planetree (Platanus x acerifolia)

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A cross between the Oriental Planetree and American Sycamore, the London Planetree was first recorded growing in London in 1663.  It takes its common name from this fact and also that it is the primary street and park tree in London.  London is not alone in its heavy usage of the London Planetree, however.   It is planted by the millions in Zones 4 to 9 in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

London Planes are tough trees that are highly resistant to urban stressors, salt damage and the anthracnose disease that plagues its native cousin the American Sycamore.  They prefer full sun to partial shade and perform best in well drained rich soils, but can tolerate alkaline, moist and even droughty soils.

Highly tolerant of poor soils and pollutants found in urban conditions, the London Planetree is a favorite of cities.  This is also the best place for them as someone else get to clean up after them.  Leaves, twigs and bark are shed all summer and leaves and fruits are shed all fall and winter.

Wide spreading and majestic, 40-60 feet wide, the London Plane will attain heights of 60 to 90 feet.  The branches are smooth and muscular, while the trunk is constantly shedding its flaking bark exposing its olive, cream and brown patches.  Leaves are pale green resembling those of a maple only larger, up to 10 inches across.  The underside of the leaves contain a heavy, choking dust that is loathed by all allergy sufferers.  The spherical fruits, called syncarps, are usually borne in twos, but may come singly or in threes.  Ripening in October and persisting into late winter, they are hardy weapons for children’s games.

Vernal Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)

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Often considered a shrub, it is actually a small tree, usually multi-stemmed and growing 10-15 feet high and almost as wide.  It makes a good screen or unpruned hedge.

The bark is an attractive gray to grayish brown color.  The leaves are dark green in summer and usually a brilliant yellow in the fall.  It’s yellow to reddish flowers are its main attribute, mainly because it is one of the only trees in flower in February to early March.

It has few disease or insect pests and none are serious.  Indians and settlers used Witch Hazel to make “water diviners” from their forked sticks.  They also used a boiled down leaf concentrate to sooth bruises and insect bites.

There is also another native, the common witch hazel, and the imported Chinese witch hazel.  They are all very similar in size and appearance, but depending on their variety they can flower from November through March and come in many shades of yellow, orange, and red.  They make a great accent against the snowy landscape, and also have a very sweet fragrance if you are adventurous enough to be in the garden in the winter months.

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Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra)

A native of central Europe, Austrian pine was introduced to the US as a tough and cold hardy addition to our urban landscapes. It can attain heights of 80 to 120 feet high by 25-50 feet wide in its native environs, but usually attains a height of 40-70 feet and a width of 20-40 feet in the US.  There are also several dwarf and miniature varieties that mature at lesser sizes.  Austrian pine develops a dense conical shape when young becoming more open and flat topped with age.

The needles are in bundles of two’s and are 4 to 6 inches long.  They are a shiny dark lustrous green and sharply pointed.  Young candles emerge yellowish-brown and provide an interesting contrast in spring.  The new needles usually persist for four years before dropping.

Fruits or cones appear alone or in clusters turning from green to brown and maturing in two seasons.  The bark is a dark grayish-brown that becomes more fissured as it matures, with mottled ridges of gray or white and can be quite attractive, accented by winter snows.

Austrian Pine was once considered the hardiest of the pines able to be grown in sand or clay and tolerate urban, seaside and drought conditions.  In recent years, diplodia tip blight and pine nematodes have severely damaged and killed entire screens and windbreaks.  Diplodia is a tough disease to control, but a good cultural program of eliminating monocultures, or not planting too close together, pruning to remove diseased tissue, watering the root zone and not the foliage, and removal of fallen needles and cones is the best way to ensure the best performance from a worthy and attractive tree.

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Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)

This native three needle pine that makes up most of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the Pitch Pine can grow in the most dry and sandy soils.  It often forms temporary pure stands due to repeated fire injury.  They are later shaded out by hardwood species.  The thick platey bark helps it to withstand the fire and after the heat has passed, it sends up sprouts from the roots and stumps.  The thick prickled cones also open after a fire and disperse the seeds.

Pitch Pines commonly grow 40 to 60 feet tall, but can grow up to 100 feet.  They are medium speed grower’s pyramid in shape becoming more gnarled and picturesque with age.

Not highly prized as an ornamental, it is used for rough lumber, pulpwood and fuel.  In the Revolutionary days, they were a major source of tar and turpentine, made from their high resin content.

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