Natural Area Preservation

Native Trees

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These are only some of the native tree species you could choose for your landscape- check with local gardeners, nurseries, and other plant experts for more!  See the Resources section on our Native Plants page for some good places to start.

As a point of interest, we mention how Native Americans and pioneers used some of these plants for food or medicine. However, this is not meant as a promotion of their use in this way today. Historical records may be inaccurate or unclear, and the reader should not interpret this information as being an endorsement of that use being safe.

Each tree is linked to its profile at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  All links will open in a new window.

Aspen, trembling (Populus tremuloides)
Although intolerant of flooding, this medium-to-large tree is found in wet shrublands and moist forests with a variety of soil conditions. Trembling aspen has beautiful clear-yellow fall color, and its smooth gray bark is an important food for white-tailed deer. Aspen colonizes open, disturbed sites, grows quickly in moist locations, and spreads rapidly by sending suckering shoots from the parent plant. Trembling aspen receives its name from the fluttering of its leaves in the wind.

Basswood; linden (Tilia americana)
Many upper branches give this large canopy tree a rounded dense crown. Basswood grows in moist, nutrient-rich forests as well as wet woods and is also shade-tolerant. It often has multiple trunks, divided close to the ground. The leaves are dark green on top and paler beneath. Interesting flower clusters and, later in the summer, fruits hang from a slender leafy bract. Winter buds are large and rounded, turning bright red as the season progresses. Bees favor basswood’s flower and make honey from the nectar. The bark of young stems was used by Native Americans to make rope.

Beech, American (Fagus grandifolia)
In moist forests, this is one of our most beautiful large canopy trees. American beech is shade-tolerant and grows in a variety of soil and moisture conditions. Due to its shallow roots, however, it doesn’t do well in lawns with a lot of foot traffic. This tree is strong-wooded and long-lived. Leaves emerge in spring silvery-green, changing to deep green in summer and golden-bronze in fall. Its smooth gray bark is suggestive of elephant hide. Beech-nuts and sharply pointed, lustrous buds provide multi-season interest. The nuts are important wildlife food.

Birch, yellow (Betula alleghaniensis)
Generally found in wet or moist soil conditions in forests and shrublands, this large canopy tree can tolerate drier conditions as well. A long-lived tree, its leaves are dull, dark green above and yellow-green beneath, turning yellow in the fall. Its peeling bark is bronze to reddish-brown and splits into papery shreds as the tree matures.

Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica)
With a straight trunk and horizontal, spreading branches, blackgum is a beautiful small-to-medium tree. It grows in wet or moist forests with somewhat acidic soils but can tolerate drier conditions. It reaches its northern limit in southern Michigan, requiring shelter from harsh winds. Its leaves are lustrous, dark green in summer turning to bright yellow, orange or scarlet in the fall. Its blue-black fruit is highly sought after by birds.

Butternut
(Juglans cinerea)

Cedar, eastern red (Juniperus virginiana)

Cedar, northern white; arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)
A twisting trunk and exposed roots characterize this small-to-medium evergreen tree found in wet or moist, open sites. Yellow-green foliage often becomes brown in winter but provides shelter for birds and a winter food for deer. This tree makes a good hedge or windbreak and provides winter interest in the landscape.

Crabapple, wild (Malus coronaria)
This small tree is found in open, formerly agricultural sites under various soil and moisture conditions. Its size makes it an excellent flowering tree for the home garden. The pink flowers are very fragrant and follow the emergence of leaves in the spring. The foliage is bright green and is often lost relatively early in fall, revealing pale green-yellow fruit that can be used for preserves or jellies.

Dogwood, flowering (Cornus florida)
This familiar dogwood is an understory tree found in moist or dry wooded sites. Four petal-like bracts make up the creamy white flowers that are held up to the sky on horizontal branches. Pagoda-shaped buds, scarlet fruit, and good fall leaf color add interest to each season. Flowering dogwood is beautiful in traditional home landscapes as a single specimen or in natural woodland settings. The fungal disease, anthracnose, is a problem for flowering dogwood. During the Civil War the bark was used as a substitute for quinine as well as a treatment for jaundice and cholera.

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
This medium-to-large tree can be found in moist or wet sites of stream banks and river floodplains as well as in dry, lime-rich (calcareous) soils. Its leaves are light to blue-green in summer, turning to light yellow in fall. Its bark is also ornamental, silvery-gray and broken into corky ridges. The edible, dark purple fruit tastes like dates and is relished by birds. In this species, infections may lead to witches’ broom, a cluster of broom-like shoot tips caused by the interactions of a powdery mildew fungus and a gall mite.

Hawthorn, cockspur (Crataegus crus-galli)
This small, wide-spreading tree is found under the various soil and moisture conditions of open, old field sites and prairies. Dark and shiny green summer leaves take on a plum-purple cast in the fall. Abundant white flower clusters appear in late spring. This tree’s zig-zag twigs, lustrous thorns, and profusion of persistent, bright red fruit provide year-round interest and both food and shelter for birds and other wildlife.

Hawthorn, downy (Crataegus mollis)
Like the cockspur hawthorn, this small, wide-spreading tree also grows in open old fields in many soil and moisture conditions. The downy hawthorn has silvery-gray bark, flowers earlier than the cockspur, and holds its branches higher off the ground. The leaves are softly hairy beneath, hence the common name. Like its cousin, the downy hawthorn creates good cover for birds with its thicket of twigs and thorns and provides lots of fruit.

Hickory, bitternut (Carya cordiformis)
The fastest-growing of the hickories, this medium-to-large canopy tree is found in moist forests with nutrient-rich soils. Its leaves turn from yellow-green in the summer to yellow-brown in the fall. Sulfur-yellow buds make identification easy, as do the hickory nuts. Plant this important wildlife tree when it is small, because its taproot makes transplanting difficult as it grows. Hickories, like oaks, are slow-growing and are important trees to include in our home landscapes for future generations. Wood from this tree is used as flavoring in smoking meats.

Hickory, pignut (Carya glabra)
This is a medium-to-large canopy tree that grows in dry forests with nutrient-rich soils. Long-lived in open situations, this strong-wooded tree provides glorious, yellow fall color along with somewhat bitter hickory nuts (perhaps only fit for pigs!). The bark becomes slightly "shaggy" with age. As with other hickories, the taproot makes transplanting a larger pignut difficult.

Hickory, shagbark (Carya ovata)
This medium-to-large canopy tree is found in dry or moist forested sites, being intolerant of prolonged high water. The shaggy bark of this tree is its most distinctive character, the plates breaking away from the tree at each end but staying attached in the middle. Nuts are sweet and edible and are a favorite of small mammals (and people). Be sure to plant this tree when it’s small so the taproot can develop in its permanent home. The wood can be used for smoking meats or as chips in the barbecue.

Ironwood; Hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
This understory tree is found in various well-drained, forested sites. It is a handsome, medium-sized tree for home landscapes because of its dark green foliage and delicately shredded bark. The attractive fruits are made of clustered nuts shrouded by papery bracts and resemble hops.

Maple, black (Acer nigrum)
This large canopy tree grows in wet, forested sites, but it will also tolerate drier conditions and shade. The somewhat droopy leaves are very dark green in the summer, turning yellow-orange to red in the fall. Because it branches close to the ground, it can be used to loosely screen more private areas of the yard. It is very similar to sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and many plant taxonomists do not consider it to be a distinct species.

Maple, red (Acer rubrum)
Thriving in wet or moist acidic soils of shrublands and forests, this medium-sized tree grows in a broad range of site conditions. The foliage emerges as reddish, then changes to medium dark green in the summer. Fall color is spectacular in yellows, oranges, and reds. Red maple is a favorite food of white-tailed deer, so expect some browsing if they visit your yard.

Maple, sugar (Acer saccharum)
This stately, large canopy tree is found in somewhat poorly drained, but not wet, soils of the beech-maple forest. The leaves are dark green in summer turning brilliant yellow, orange, and sometimes red in the fall. Its symmetrical form and fall color make this an important ornamental tree. It is the primary source for maple syrup.

Musclewood; Blue beech; American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)
An understory tree, musclewood grows in moist, nutrient-rich sites. Gray, smooth ridges of bark look like muscles, giving musclewood its name. Often multi-stemmed and twisted , musclewood has dark green leaves in summer and yellow or orange-red leaves in fall making it a handsome landscape tree. The clusters of nuts, attached with showy bracts (illustrated at right), are decorative in winter and provide a popular wildlife food.

Oak, black (Quercus velutina)
Black oak is a large canopy tree of dry, well-drained, open sites such as oak savannas and barrens. Its dark, almost black bark contrasts effectively with red leaves in the spring, deep-green leaves in the summer, and yellow to brown leaves in the fall. Like all the oaks described here, this slow-growing, distinctive tree should be planted for future generations. The acorns are an important wildlife food.

Oak, bur (Quercus macrocarpa)
This magnificent tree has a spreading crown that characterizes the oak savanna. It is found in a variety of site conditions, from seasonally wet to dry, open to shaded. Its massive trunk and stout twigs with corky ridges support foliage that is yellow-green in spring, bright green in summer, and yellow-brown in fall. The acorns are attractive, with a fringed cap, and are an important wildlife food. This tree is more tolerant of urban pollutants than other oaks, but like them, is difficult to transplant because of its taproot.

Oak, chinkapin (Quercus muehlenbergii)
This medium-sized tree is typically found in a dry forest, but it can live under a variety of moisture and light conditions in lime-rich (calcareous), well-drained soils. Its coarsely sharp-toothed leaves are a glossy dark green. Sensitive to soil compaction, this tree is best sited in a garden bed, protected from trampling. Its acorns are an important wildlife food.

Oak, Dwarf chinkapin (Quercus prinoides)

Oak, red (Quercus rubra)
This large oak grows in moist, well-drained, forested sites. The leaves emerge a pink-red in spring, turning a dark green above and paler beneath in summer. Autumn brings beautiful, red leaf color. This long-lived, strong-wooded tree is more cold-tolerant than black or white oaks and provides a stately form in winter.

Oak, shingle (Quercus imbricaria)
An attractive, medium-sized tree, this plant is occasionally found in far southern Michigan, in wet or moist, wooded sites. Its spring leaves are light yellow-green, turning dark green in summer and golden yellow-brown to russet-red in the fall. The leathery and lustrous leaves tend to stay on the tree in winter, making an effective wind break. It is the only oak in Michigan whose leaves are not toothed or lobed. The shingle oak’s name is from settlers’ use of the wood to make house shingles.

Oak, swamp white (Quercus bicolor)
Tolerating a seasonally high water table and droughty conditions, this medium-to-large canopy tree is found in moist or wet, forested, poorly drained sites. Its leaves are purplish-green in spring, turning to dark green in summer with lighter, silvery undersides (hence, the Latin name). Fall color is a golden yellow-brown. Another attractive characteristic is its peeling bark seen on younger twigs and branches. Swamp white oak’s acorns are an important wildlife food. Its symmetrical, open, rounded crown makes it a handsome addition to the home landscape.

Oak, white (Quercus alba)
A majestic, large tree, white oak is found in sites with well-drained soils in dry and moist wooded areas. Its relatively short trunk and thick, wide-spreading branches display spring leaves that are red turning silvery, until summer when they turn blue-green, and then burgundy in the fall. This tree was once the dominant tree of Washtenaw County. It is slow-growing but worth the wait.

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
A small understory tree, the pawpaw is found under wooded conditions in southern Michigan. The large toothless leaves are light green in spring and summer, turning yellow in fall and they have a distinctive petroleum odor when crushed. Its fleshy, edible fruit is said to taste like sweet bananas and is enjoyed by humans and other mammals and birds. Reportedly, some people get a rash from handling the fruit. In the past, pawpaw bark was used as a medicine.

Plum, American (Prunus americana)

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
This small tree branches low to the ground and spreads elegantly into a rounded shape. Redbud grows in wet or moist, nutrient-rich soils in the southern forested part of Michigan, but will grow well under various soil conditions. The beauty of this tree is its tiny pink-to-lavender flowers that appear along the branches in spring. Its heart-shaped leaves are red-purple in spring, turning to medium green in summer and yellow in fall. The fruit is a pod that hangs on the tree throughout the winter.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Found in dry or moist forests and open sites, sassafras is a small-to-medium understory tree that prefers full sun as it matures. It has a stout trunk and contorted branches that create a picturesque profile. Inconspicuous, slightly fragrant, yellow flowers in the spring make way for dark blue fruit in fall. Leaves are shaped like a mitten, and several variations of this shape can often be found on the same tree. Leaf color is the prize of this tree, turning from a medium green in summer to beautiful yellows, oranges, reds, and purples in the fall. All parts of the tree are aromatic. Sassafras is difficult to transplant because of its taproot, so be sure to buy a small one. Tea was once made from this species as a blood-thinning tonic but now is believed to be carcinogenic.

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
This fast growing tree is found near streams and rivers and in floodplains. It tolerates flooding and soil compaction making it an ideal tree for wet sites or urban settings. The large coarse leaves are bright green above and paler beneath. The fruits are clusted together in single small balls that dangle from the branches throughout the winter. But the most striking feature of this tree is its bark that flakes off in plates, revealing patches of white, green or tan and giving an interesting mottled appearence to the trunk.

Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Magnificent when grown in the open, this tree is more typically found in moist-to-wet forested sites where it is a large canopy tree. The tuliptree is a relative of the magnolia and, like it, has large, showy, fragrant flowers that transform into cone-shaped fruits. The leaves, shaped somewhat like tulip silhouettes, emerge light green, maturing to bright green in summer and lemon-yellow in fall. Noted for its straight limb-free trunk, the tulip tree’s stately form fills out the year with winter beauty.

Walnut, black (Juglans nigra)
This large overstory tree is found in moist forested conditions and is intolerant of extreme wet or dry soils. The leaves change from yellow-green in the spring and summer to golden-yellow in the fall. The large nuts are edible and are eaten extensively by small mammals. Chemicals exuded from the roots of this tree inhibit the growth of plants in several plant families including: Ericaceae (e.g., azalea, rhododendron, wintergreen), Pinaceae (e.g., spruces, pines, firs), and Solanaceae (e.g., nightshade, tomato, potato). (Contact your county extension office for more information.) To mitigate its effects on other plants in your yard, use black walnut in woodland settings with native forest associates, including sugar maple, black cherry, beech, basswood, and white and red oak. Caterpillars of the green, long-tailed Luna Moth use this tree as a major source of food. 

Contact Information
1831 Traver Rd
(734) 794-6627 
David Borneman, Manager