Highlight on Flowering Trees
Spring is a time for renewal and rebirth. Awakening from their long, dormant sleep, our native flowering trees are some of the first bloomers that offer up their pollen and nectar to bees and other pollinators coming out of their own hibernation. Some may still be in bloom even as you are reading this.
Let’s highlight a few favorites that do well in our region.
Serviceberry, or Amelanchier in the botanical realm, is a native small tree or large, multi-stemmed shrub that grows especially well in our well-drained, sandy soils. Also known as shadbush or Juneberry, it blooms in early spring with dainty, white flowers and produces juicy, bluish-purple fruits in June. Loved by songbirds and other wildlife, they are also edible to humans and make excellent pies and jellies. Serviceberry can be found within the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont regions of Delaware.
Interestingly, the common name, serviceberry, is fabled to come from a rather morbid origin. These trees flower in early spring in New England, and it said that they only bloom when the ground begins to thaw from the recent, frozen winter. At this point, undertakers knew the soil was easy enough to dig, and hence, have funeral services once again.
Cornus florida, or flowering dogwood, is another tree native to the Mid-Atlantic region; it is probably the quintessential front yard ornamental tree from the 20th century. Graceful in appearance in any season, its signature blooms that appear in spring are not really petals but are technically modified bracts. The petals are tiny and are located in the center of the white, or sometimes pinkish, bracts.
The dogwood’s bark is blocky and looks similar to alligator skin. It prefers moist but well-drained soils and is naturally found as an understory tree in our forests. As with many flowering trees, the more sun they receive, they better they bloom. This is apparent when seen along forest edges, especially near roadways and farmers’ fields.
The dogwood perhaps derived its name from an Old English word, dagwood, which was a term for daggers or other sharp objects made from the tree’s wood. Birds are attracted to the colorful fruits of the dogwood, and the tree also plays host to numerous butterfly and moth larvae.
The Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is definitely one of my favorite flowering trees. Known for its vivid, fuchsia-colored blooms along the length of its branches, it stands out in the landscape. The heart-shaped leaves are another distinguishing characteristic.
A number of other selections are available including “Forest Pansy” with purple foliage, “Hearts of Gold” with golden leaves, first emerging with a reddish tinge. The “Rising Sun’s” leaves emerge with an orange color that changes to golds and yellows, and eventually to lime green.
The flowers and buds of the redbud are edible, with a slightly sour taste, and are high in vitamin C. The redbud attracts numerous pollinators and birds. Redbuds like moist but well-drained soils and are at home in full-sun or part-sun conditions. They are a native, understory tree in our regional forests.
There are many additional species to choose from, including fringetree, sourwood, Carolina silverbell, staghorn sumac, crabapples, and cherries, just to name a few.
I hope I’ve piqued your interest in using flowering trees in your own yards. The benefits of these trees include not only their beauty, but also their resource potential to the local ecosystem and food web.
Have fun and be bold in your design. Group them together in mass for greater impact or use one as a focal point or emphasis in your garden. You won’t be disappointed.
Stay safe, and let’s garden together. ▼
Eric W. Wahl is a landscape architect at Pennoni Associates, and the president of the Delaware Native Plant Society.
Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash.