By Paul James
Last week I discussed three of the best trees for this area – Chinese Pistache, Shumard Oak, and Lacebark Elm. Now it’s time for three more that perhaps aren’t as well known, but are nevertheless great choices, especially if you’re looking for something a bit more unusual.
Topping the list is the Black Gum, known throughout much of the southeast (where it is native) by the more appealing name, Tupelo. Regardless what you call it, this is a fantastic tree. It typically grows to around 30-feet tall and 20-feet wide (although it can get bigger in time), is tolerant of clay soils, and thrives in wet soils as well. Interestingly, however, it will adapt to dry soils if watered regularly when young, and in time will become quite drought tolerant.
Spring flowers aren’t especially showy, but they are a fantastic source of nectar for bees (Tupelo honey, anyone?). And as many as 90 different bird species enjoy the fruits that follow. As the tree matures, its bark develops deep furrows that resemble alligator skin. Green leaves turn a brilliant scarlet in fall, earlier than most other trees.
And speaking of color, the variety ‘Wildfire’ produces ruby-colored leaves in early spring, which then turn bronze, and finally green in summer before turning fiery red in fall. Is that cool or what?
Next up on the hit parade is the Shantung Maple, a tree that definitely deserves to be planted more. The Shantung is relatively small at maturity, topping out at around 20-feet tall by 15-feet wide, which makes it ideal for smaller yards. Although native to China and Korea, it’s easily grown here in Green Country provided it’s planted in well-drained soil in sun to part shade.
The five-lobed leaves of this maple are bright green in spring and summer, and in fall they produce a kaleidoscope of colors ranging from yellow to orange to purplish to red. And finally, unlike most maples which have smooth bark, the Shantung’s bark resembles the skin of a cantaloupe. What a great tree!
And finally, there’s the Bald Cypress, which has been a favorite of mine for decades. A deciduous conifer, the Bald Cypress is native to swampy areas, including southern Oklahoma, so it can handle being planted in a wet spot. But like the Black Gum, it will adapt to dry areas as well. There are several varieties of Bald Cypress available these days, from the species – which can grow to 80 feet or more – to those that max out at 50 feet or so. There’s even a dwarf version called ‘Peve Minaret’ that only grows to about 12 feet, and there’s a stunning, cascading variety call ‘Falling Waters’ that grows to roughly 12 feet by 8 feet and produces pendulous branches that bend all the way to ground.
I’m going to select three more trees for next week’s post, so stay tuned. In the meantime, feel free to add to the urban forest by planting any of the six trees I’ve already described. And in case you’re wondering, When is the best time to plant a tree? The answer is, now.