Home Landscape in Mississippi
Native Trees for Mississippi Landscapes
The use of indigenous trees in Mississippi homes, gardens and communities is not new to our state. Indeed, they form the very fabric of our surroundings and create our state's own unique regional identity. Imagine the writings of noted Mississippi authors Eudora Welty or William Faulkner without their recognition of the native flora and landscapes that help to create our sense of place.
Selecting native trees for the home landscape is a wise choice. In addition to their beauty, reasons for using Mississippi's native trees include:
Putting the Right Tree in the Right Place
To be successful with your landscape planting, native trees should be selected as any other garden plant. The choice of trees depends upon the unique qualities of the area to be planted. Availability of sun or shade, determining if the soils dry quickly or stay wet, and what heights and widths are appropriate for the planting location are important considerations. One simple way of selecting the types of trees to be planted is to look at the surrounding existing vegetation. Tree species that are already growing on the site, near the fence lines, or on neighboring properties demonstrate their suitability to the site.
Trees for Difficult Growing Conditions
Establishing trees into harsh site conditions can be a challenge. Newly constructed sites often have sunny hot exposures, little topsoil or filled subsoil, and little access to irrigation and care. Choosing trees that are tolerant of these growing conditions are the best choice.
The following list describes forty tree species that are native to Mississippi and have proven to perform well in a variety of urban landscapes. These plants were chosen for their durability, ornamental qualities, wildlife value, and their tolerance to a wide spectrum of soil, moisture, and sun exposure types. Many are already familiar features of Southern landscapes; others should be given greater consideration for ornamental use.
For each tree species described, its native habitats, associate plant species, flowering, fruit, leaf and form characteristics, wildlife values, cultural tips, as well as effective landscape uses are noted. While many of these plants tolerate conditions not found in their native environment, it is always preferable to choose plants that are best suited to the site.
Trees are listed by:
Acer saccharum Marshall ssp. floridanum
Florida maple is a deciduous understory tree that grows to forty feet in height. Occasionally found in rich woods and along streams, the Florida maple is found growing with dogwoods, redbuds and silverbell. Numerous small flowers appear from March through April, followed by winged samaras (fruit) in June. For the Deep South, this maple tends to have the most reliable red or yellow fall color. Florida maple makes an excellent specimen tree in the landscape.
Full to part sun/dry to moist soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/spring flowers/showy winter fruits
Acer rubrum Linnaeus
Red maple is a large deciduous tree that can grow to ninety feet tall. Native to a wide variety of habitats, red maple is found on soils ranging from wet to dry. Although an early pioneer in old field succession, red maple is also found in older woodlands. Showy flowers appear from February through March, followed immediately by winged samaras (typically red). With its broad rounded canopy, red maple makes a good, fast growing shade tree. In high pH soils, a leaf chlorosis occurs.
Full to part sun/dry to moist soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/winter flowers/showy spring fruits
Swamp Red Maple
Acer rubrum var. drummondii Sargent
Swamp red maple is a large deciduous tree that can grow up to sixty feet. Found in wet alluvial soils, swamp red maple is distinguished from red maple by dense hairs on the underside of the leaf, and the greater prominence of its five lobes. Trees found growing with swamp red maple include sweet bay magnolia, pond cypress, and black gum. Red flowers appear from January through February, followed immediately by red samaras. Branches are susceptible to breakage in windstorms.
Full to part sun/dry to wet soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/winter flowers/showy winter fruits
Amorpha fruticosa Linnaeus
Indigo bush is a small deciduous tree with an open, loose form that grows up to fifteen feet. Found along streams and wet woods, indigo bush grows next to summersweet, Virginia willow and buttonbush. Showy lavender flower spikes with yellow stamens appear in April through June, followed by small kidney-shaped seedpods in late summer. Indigo bush is tolerant of both wet and dry soils; and is most visually effective when grouped in masses in the landscape.
Sun to part sun/wet to moist soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/spring flowers, summer fruits
Betula nigra Linnaeus
River birch is a deciduous tree that grows up to seventy feet in height. Common to sandy soils along streams, rivers and floodplains, river birch grows in association with sycamore, swamp red maple, and box elder. Its upright oval form and an attractive peeling bark make the river birch a popular tree. First to appear on disturbed sites, river birch grows quickly and has a short life span. See larger view or publication size.
Sun to part sun/wet to moist soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/spring flowers/ornamental bark
Carpinus caroliniana Walter
Ironwood is a deciduous understory tree growing to forty feet in height. Native to rich woods, river terraces, and stream bottoms, ironwood is associated with American beech, Southern magnolia, and witch hazel. Its form is typically rounded, with irregular, horizontal branching. Of particular interest are the muscle-like ripples of the smooth grey trunk, and the yellow leaf color in autumn. Ironwood is very sensitive to disturbance of its shallow lateral roots.
Part sun/moist to dry soils/deciduous/low wildlife value/ornamental bark
Cornus alternifolia Linne
Pagoda dogwood is a deciduous understory tree that grows to forty feet. It is occasionally found in rich woods and river terraces, and associated with American beech and ironwood. The white flat-topped flowers appear in April, followed by blue fleshy fruits in late summer. Its form is oval with distinct horizontal branching. This branching pattern is attractive in winter, and is excellent against sharp, vertical architectural lines.
Part sun to shade/moist soil/deciduous/high wildlife value/summer fruits/spring flowers
Cornus stricta Lamarck
Swamp Dogwood is a deciduous understory tree growing to thirty feet. Found in wetland soils, habitats include creeks, swamps, and river bottoms. Titi, tupelo gum, and swamp red maple are associated plants. White flat-topped flower clusters appear in May and blue fleshy fruits appear in summer. It is an exceptional small tree for heavy, clay soils and wet areas. The multi-stemmed form is upright and oval, and makes a good tree for small areas such as courtyards.
Part sun to shade/wet to moist soil/deciduous/high wildlife value/summer fruits/spring flowers
Crataegus marshallii Eggleston
Parsley hawthorne is a small deciduous tree that grows to thirty feet in height. Tolerant of both wet and dry soils, it is native to moist woods, creek banks, and river bottoms. Associated species include red maple, witch hazel, and water oak. Showy white flower clusters bloom in early spring followed by scarlet fruits in late summer. The fine textured, parsley-like leaves, and peeling bark on older trees is especially attractive, making parsley hawthorne a good landscape specimen.
Part sun to sun/wet to moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value/summer fruits/spring flowers/ornamental bark/thorns
Crataegus opaca Hooker & Arnott
Mayhaw is a small deciduous tree that grows to thirty-five feet. It is found in swamps, along creeks and in river bottoms. Associated species include titi, swamp red maple, and tupelo gum. Showy white flower clusters appear in February, followed by red fruits in April. Mayhaw often forms dense thorny thickets, making it good to use as a barrier or hedge. The red fruits make an excellent jelly, and there are many cultivars available for fruit production.
Sun/wet to moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value/spring fruit/winter flowers/thorn
Cyrilla racemiflora Linnaeus
Titi is a small semi-evergreen tree that grows to thirty feet. Common to swamp edges, wetlands, and streams in the Piney Woods, titi grows with swamp red maple, pond cypress, and river birch. Large, white fragrant racemes appear in May and June, followed by brown seeds that are persistent throughout the year. In sunny, open conditions titi forms broad, rounded colonies from stoloniferous roots. In shade the tree becomes open and sculptural.
Sun to part sun/wet to moist soils/semi-evergreen/medium wildlife value/spring flowers/summer fruits/showy bark
Halesia diptera Ellis
Silverbell is a deciduous understory tree that grows to thirty-five feet in height. Found along streams, bottom land edges, and rich woods, silverbell grows near dogwood, magnolia, and American beech. Small white bell-shaped flowers hang from the branches in early spring, and green pods with corky wings are produced in late summer. Silverbell has a broad oval form, and is used effectively as a specimen tree.
Part sun to shade/moist soils/deciduous/low wildlife value/spring flowers/summer fruit
Ilex cassine Linnaeus var. cassine
A small evergreen tree, cassine holly can reach thirty feet in height. Found along streams, wet pinelands, and swamp edges, cassine grows next to swamp bay, wax myrtle, and yaupon. Abundant reddish-orange fruits are produced in fall on new wood. This holly has a broad oval form that is clean and neat in appearance, and can be easily trimmed for narrow spaces. The linear leaves are yellow-green in color and contrast well against darker evergreens.
Sun to part sun/wet to moist soil/evergreen/high wildlife value/winter fruits
Ilex decidua Walter
Deciduous holly is a small understory tree that grows up to twenty-five feet in height. Native to lowlands, rich woods, swamp margins, and stream edges, this holly is often found on moist soils with water oak, swamp red maple, and wax myrtle. Bright red fruits mature on females in late fall, and are consumed by many birds and mammals. This tree is multiple stemmed and upright to spreading in form. Deciduous holly is a good specimen tree for winter display. See larger view or publication size.
Full sun/moist to wet soils/deciduous/high wildlife value/winter fruits
Ilex opaca Aiton
American holly is a large evergreen tree that grows up to fifty feet. Found in many habitats across the eastern United States, it is prevalent in rich woods and bottom lands. Associate species include the tulip tree, American beech, and red maple. The red fruit produced in fall is an important wildlife food. American holly has a dense pyramidal form when young, becoming less regular with age.
Sun to part sun/moist soils/evergreen/high wildlife value/winter fruit
Ilex vomitoria Aiton
Yaupon holly is an evergreen that grows to thirty feet in height. Tolerant of both wet and dry conditions, yaupon can be found in many habitats. Typically multiple-stemmed, this holly can form thickets in sunny environments. Red fruits are borne on female plants in fall and persist throughout the winter. Yaupon holly has an upright oval form in sun, and an irregular, sculptural form in shade. It is a tough, durable plant for many urban conditions.
Sun to part sun/wet to dry soils/evergreen/high wildlife value/winter fruits
Liquidamber styraciflua Linnaeus
Sweetgum is a large deciduous tree that can grow to one hundred feet high. Native to the eastern United States, sweetgum can be found in most woodlands. Prominent male flower spikes appear in late winter, and showy spiny fruits are produced in late summer.
Sweetgum has a striking, narrow pyramidal form when young, which becomes oval with age. The easily recognized palmate-lobed leaves turn yellow, red or purple in fall; and several fruitless cultivars are available.
Sun to part sun/wet to dry soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/winter fruits
Liriodendron tulipifera Linnaeus
Tulip tree is a large deciduous tree that grows to one hundred feet, and is found in many woodlands of the eastern United States. Unusual greenish-yellow flowers appear in April, with persistent seed stalks lasting throughout the year. Tulip tree is oval to pyramidal in form, with a tall straight trunk. The large tulip-shaped leaves turn a clear yellow color in fall, and are coarse textured. The tulip tree is stately, and formal in appearance. Branches are susceptible to wind damage.
Part sun to shade/moist soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/spring flowers/showy bark
Magnolia grandiflora Linnaeus
Southern magnolia is a large evergreen tree that grows to one hundred feet in height. Tolerant of both wet and dry soils, it is found in older woods, hammocks, and on slopes. Associated species include American beech, red oak, and white oak. Large showy white flowers appear in Spring, and are followed by scarlet seeds in late summer. Because Southern magnolias cast dense shade, it is best to place them in areas that do not require under planting. See larger view or publication size.
Sun to shade/moist soils/evergreen/high wildlife value/summer fruit/spring flowers
Sweet Bay Magnolia
Magnolia virginiana Linnaeus
Sweet bay magnolia is a large semi-evergreen tree that grows to sixty feet tall. It is found in a wide variety of habitats throughout the eastern United States, and often occurs in moist soils. In wet pinelands it grows with swamp bay, swamp red maple, and titi. White fragrant flowers are produced in mid-spring, and red seeds appear in summer. Sweet bay magnolia has an upright columnar form which is useful in narrow, contained spaces. Light breezes reveal the silvery grey color of the leaf underside.
Part sun to sun/wet to moist soils/semi-evergreen/high wildlife value/summer fruit/spring flowers
Malus angustifolia Michaux
Southern crabapple is a small deciduous tree that grows to thirty feet. Common to the eastern United States, this crabapple is found growing on drier soils with red maple, persimmon, and yaupon holly. Pink fragrant blossoms appear in early spring, followed by small greenish apples that are consumed by many wildlife species. Southern crabapple has a broad mounding form, and it often creates thickets from suckering roots. This low-branching tree makes a good specimen plant. See larger view or publication size.
Sun to part sun/dry to moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value/spring flowers/summer fruit
Myrica cerifera Linnaeus
A small evergreen tree, wax myrtle grows up to twenty-five feet in height. Found along the Coastal Plain, wax myrtle occurs in nearly all habitat types. Often it is found on disturbed sites or fields in early successional stages. Small, blue-grey fruits are produced on females in fall and persist through the winter. Wax myrtle has a dense spreading crown, and a multiple trunk that can be pruned for sculptural effects. Although short lived, wax myrtle often resprouts from the roots.
Full sun to part sun/wet to moist soils/evergreen/high wildlife value/winter fruit
Nyssa sylvatica Marshall var. sylvatica
Tupelo gum is a large deciduous tree that can grow to eighty feet. Distributed throughout the eastern United States, tupelo gum occurs on both dry uplands and wet sites. Blue fruits, which appear in late summer provide food for birds and mammals. Tupelo gum has an upright oval form, strong horizontal branching, and is attractive as a specimen tree. In northern regions this gum is planted for its scarlet fall color, which is less showy along the Gulf Coast.
Sun to part sun/moist to dry soils/deciduous/high wildlife value/summer fruit
Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora Sargent
Similar to tupelo gum in many respects, black gum has narrower leaves and is more prevalent in the Coastal Plain. It is found in wet bottom lands, ponds and along sloughs; along with bald cypress, black willow, and swamp red maple trees. Because of its horizontal branching pattern, black gum is a good tree for winter silhouettes. Black gum is tolerant of many stressful conditions and makes an excellent street tree
Sun to part sun/wet or moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value/summer fruit
Persea palustris Sargent
Swamp bay is a medium size evergreen tree which grows to forty feet. Habitats include bogs and wet pinelands, and this tree accompanies red maple, sweet bay magnolia, and black gum. Dark blue fruits produced in late summer are eaten by squirrels, quail, and seed-eating birds. The aromatic leaves are used for seasoning in cuisine. Insect galls can form on the leaves, but do little harm.
Sun to part sun/wet or moist soils/evergreen/high wildlife value/summer fruit
Pinus glabra Walter
Spruce pine is a large evergreen tree that grows to seventy feet. Found in bottom lands, swamp edges, and along streams, this tree accompanies black gum, titi, and wax myrtle. Spruce pine can be identified by short twisted yellow-green needles that occur in pairs, and oak-like bark. Young trees branch closely to the ground and become more irregular and open with age. Spruce pine makes a good screen and windbreak because of its low, dense branching.
Sun to part sun/dry to moist soils/evergreen/high wildlife value/interesting bark
Pinus palustris Miller
Longleaf is our most majestic pine, growing over one hundred feet tall. Once covering most of the Coastal Plain, longleaf is now reduced in habitat. Found in both dry and moist pinelands, longleaf can be distinguished by its long needles and silvery winter buds. When young, this pine goes through a 'grass stage,' when there is little above ground growth as the roots become established. This is an excellent tree to use in dry exposed sites. See larger view or publication size.
Sun/dry to moist soils/evergreen/high wildlife value
Prunus caroliniana Ehrhart
Cherry laurel is a small evergreen tree that grows to thirty feet in height. Native to the Coastal Plain, this cherry is widely distributed along sandy streams and sloughs. Small white flowers appear in early spring, followed by black fruits in fall. Cherry laurel has a dense, upright oval form, and is used for hedges and screens. Often short-lived, its roots are sensitive to poorly drained conditions. The glossy dark green leaves and oval form provide for a neat appearance.
Sun to part sun/dry soils/evergreen/high wildlife value/spring flowers/interesting bark
Prunus serotina Ehrhart
Black cherry is a large deciduous tree that can reach up to eighty feet in height. Found in a wide variety of habitats in the eastern United States, black cherry is often found alongside of white oak and American beech. Small white pendulous flowers appear in early spring and are followed by black fruits in summer. This cherry has an upright form and often occurs in clusters due to numerous volunteers. Black cherry has several insect and disease problems, and is relatively short lived.
Sun/dry to moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value/summer fruits/spring flowers/interesting bark
Quercus alba Linnaeus
A large deciduous tree, white oak will reach more than one hundred feet tall. Native to rich woodlands of the eastern United States, this oak is associated with tulip tree and white ash. White oak can have an upright narrow form in dense woods, to a majestic spreading canopy that can reach one hundred feet wide in open, sunny conditions. A prolific acorn bearer, this tree is an important food source for many wildlife species. White oak is slow growing, but makes an excellent shade tree.
Sun to shade/moist to dry soils/deciduous/high wildlife value
Quercus falcata var. pagodifolia Elliott
Cherrybark oak is a large deciduous tree that grows over one hundred feet tall. Found in bottom lands along the Coastal Plain, cherrybark grows alongside water oak and tulip trees. This oak has a broad oval form with high branching to the trunk. Because of its tolerance to periodic flooding, this is a good oak for wet soils. Cherrybark gets its name from flaky reddish bark, which resembles that of black cherry. This oak is tolerant of many environmental stresses and makes a good street tree.
Sun to shade/wet to moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value
Swamp Chestnut Oak
Quercus michauxii Nuttall
The deciduous swamp chestnut oak can grow up to over one hundred feet. Found on wet soils along the Coastal Plain, this oak grows in bottom lands, and along swamp and pond edges. Associated species include water oak, willow oak, and swamp red maple. Swamp chestnut oak has an upright oval form with ascending branches providing an interesting winter silhouette. This oak has a reliable red fall color that contrasts well against its light gray bark.
Sun to part sun/wet or moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value
Quercus nuttallii Palmer
Nuttall oak is a large deciduous tree that grows over one hundred feet tall. This oak is a bottom land species native to southern river basins. Companion species include black willow, swamp red maple, and water oak. Like most oaks, nuttall acorn production is heaviest every four to seven years, known as mast years. Nuttall is a fast growing, water-tolerant oak that makes an excellent shade tree.
Sun to part sun/wet or moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value
Quercus phellos Linnaeus
A large deciduous tree, willow oak grows to over one hundred feet in height. Native to the eastern United States, it grows along streams and swamp edges, and in bottom lands. Nuttall, cherrybark, and water oaks are associated species. With its upright oval form and high branching quality, willow oak makes a beautiful shade tree. It is highly tolerant of constricted root space, reflected heat, and poor air quality.
Sun to shade/wet or moist soils/deciduous/high wildlife value
Quercus virginiana Miller
Common to Southern landscapes, the live oak is a large evergreen tree that reaches over one hundred feet in height and spread. Native to the Coastal Plain, this oak is found in dry sandy soils, or on slight rises in wetter woods. Live oak typically has a short thick trunk with picturesque horizontal branching. Live oaks have many surface roots that are intolerant of soil compaction.
Sun or shade/dry or moist soils/evergreen/high wildlife value
Rhus coppalina Linnaeus
A small deciduous tree, winged sumac reaches thirty feet in height. It is one of the first small trees to appear in disturbed environments throughout the eastern United States. A pyramidal yellow-green flower spike appears in midsummer that forms crimson red berries in early fall. This tree suckers from the roots to form large colonies, and is excellent for use in erosion control. Winged sumac can be identified by the narrow wings between the leaflets of the compound leaf.
Sun/dry to wet soils/deciduous/high wildlife value/summer fruits/summer flowers
Taxodium ascendens Brongniart
Pond cypress is a deciduous tree that grows to forty-five feet in height. Habitats include wet savannas, swamps, and ponds of the Coastal Plain. Associated plants include swamp red maple, sweet bay magnolia, and titi. This cypress is similar in many respects to bald cypress, but may be distinguished by needles that are awl-shaped and by having deeply furrowed bark. Pond cypress is useful for soil stabilization at water edges.
Sun to part sun/wet or moist soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/interesting bark
Taxodium distichum Richard
Bald cypress is the sentinel of the Southern swamp, reaching over one hundred feet tall in height. Native to the Coastal Plain, bald cypress inhabits bottom lands, oxbows, and sloughs with swamp red maple, tupelo gum, and black willow trees. Strongly pyramidal when young, bald cypress becomes irregular with age. The reddish peeling bark and rusty fall color enlivens any landscape. Although commonly associated with wet sites, bald cypress performs well on dry soils.
Sun to part sun/wet to dry soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value/interesting bark
Ulmus alata Michaux
Winged elm is a large deciduous tree that reaches eighty feet tall. Native to the southeastern United States, winged elm is adaptable to various habitats but is most commonly found on dry soils or slopes. Associated oak species include post, blackjack and white oak. It common name is derived from corky wings that often appear on branches. Having V-shaped branching, winged elm resembles a smaller version of American elm.
Sun to part sun/dry soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value
Ulmus crassifolia Nuttall
Cedar elm is a large deciduous tree that reaches eighty feet in height. It occurs in wet clay soils of bottom lands and stream edges, and companion species include water oak, honey locust, and willow oak. Both the cedar and winged elms are excellent for street plantings, and are not vulnerable to Dutch elm disease as the American elm. It is difficult to underplant this tree due to its shallow roots. This species is easily identified by the late summer flowering and fall fruiting.
Sun to part sun/wet or moist soils/deciduous/medium wildlife value
These factsheets were written by Robert F. Brzuszek, Assistant Extension Professor, The Department of Landscape Architecture, Mississippi State University.