- Amelanchier arborea (downy serviceberry) is a native from the rose family, which most commonly grows to about 25’, with a multistemmed, rounded habit. White flowers in the early spring become dark fruit, ripening in June. Fall leaf color is apricot, and the grayish bark is very ornamental. Serviceberry prefers partial shade, and tends to fall prey to lacebug in full sun, but is tolerant of many soils.
- Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) is a native with zig-zag, dark red-brown stems, heart-shaped leaves which ranges at maturity from 20-25’ wide by 25-35’ tall. The V-shaped trunk and habit are very graceful in appearance. Redbud will flower in very early spring at a young age with reddish-purple buds, opening to rosy pink flowers, attached to the stems and trunk. Fall color can be a lovely yellow.
- Franklinia alatamatia (Franklintree) is native to the Eastern US, especially Georgia. The large shiny leaves are in an umbrella arrangement, and turn to orange and red in autumn. The white flowers with a yellow center appear in late summer (July-Sept) when few other trees bloom. The attractive bark is smooth and gray, broken by irregular cream-colored fissures. Franklinia has an interesting history, and can be a good conversation piece, as well.
- Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay magnolia) is a native, too, and it differs from most magnolias in that it loves wet soils, especially if it has a lot of sun. The leaves are semi-evergreen, with a dark green top and a silvery bottom. Lemon-scented, creamy white, large blossoms appear sparingly on this small (20’) tree in May-June, and turn into very ornamental bright red fruits.
- Oxydendrum arborium (sourwood), native to parts of the Eastern US, including Western PA, is another tree with four-season interest, and it looks beautiful planted with Hydrangea quercifolia (another native plant!). It can be a little fussy to establish, but it will thrive in acid, mostly sunny spots. The leaf color in the fall is brilliant—yellows, reds, and purples, often all on the same tree. White, urn-shaped flowers appear in June to early July.
- Stewartia pseudo-camellia (Japanese stewartia) isn’t native, and I tried to leave it off this list, but I just couldn’t resist mentioning it. It, like the sourwood, is a small-to-medium size, and typically reaches 30’. The flowers resemble franklinia’s and appear later in the summer—July and August. The pyramidal-oval habit and the “muscle-y” character of the exfoliating bark are two of the most beautiful features of this choice tree.
You’ve noticed that the topic of the garden club’s Oktoberfest program is understory trees. Here’s a short list of some of my favorite ornamental trees. If you want to do a little homework before the October meeting, look them up, and think about whether they’d fit in your landscape.
Author, Judy Diorio
Judy's Blog is written by Blackridge's gardener-in-residence, Judy Diorio. Judy has lived in Blackridge for 25 years, and writes the BGC's "In The Garden" column for the Blackboard. She has studied horticulture and landscape design and is currently preparing to be a Pennsylvania Certified Horticulturist.
Allegheny Co Extension--Hort
Arboretum at Penn State
Audubon Soc of Western Pa
Birds and Blooms
Longue Vue Gardens
NYT--Gardeners and Gardening
Organic Gardening Magazine
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Pittsburgh Botanic Garden
Post-Gazette--Home & Garden
Royal Botanical Gardens
ScienceDaily--Plants & Animals
US National Arboretum
Western PA Conservancy
Wildlife Resource Council