In celebration of Arbor Day, here are some suggestions for trees native to Western New York to consider adding to your landscape. If you are unable to add a tree to your own property (or don’t own property) consider purchasing one of these from a locally owned nursery and donate it to a park, school or other worthy organization. Remember, life is always better when you slap your heart up against a tree and give it a big hug!
American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
is fast growing, long-lived (up to 600 years) and at maturity is among the largest indigenous trees of New York State with a substantial trunk and crown. It is characterized by a lovely multi-colored bark of gray, green, brown and ivory (resembling camouflage). It is quite tolerant of road salts so will do nicely in areas impacted by road drainage. It does equally well in very wet conditions and in drier terrain. Well known to naturally populate in areas that have been disturbed by construction, erosion, etc., so soil quality is not an issue. Other common names are Planetree, American planetree, and buttonball tree. Confirm the scientific name when purchasing your trees to be certain you are getting the native species.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
A species that can thrive in a wide varieties of habitats, the Red Maple can be a good choice for reforesting or creating a shady respite. Also called the Swamp, Scarlet and Soft Maple, A. rubrum is one of the most widely distributed trees in eastern North America, found from Florida all the way north to Newfoundland. and can tolerate soils from soggy to rocky. Under moist, fertile and well-drained conditions, the Red Maple can grow into a beautiful shade tree reaching about 80 feet tall at maturity and living up to 90 years or longer.
This species of Maple produces red flowers very early in the year, long before buds begin to swell, so is a true herald of Spring. It can either be monoecious (having both male and female reproductive parts) or dioiceous (either male or female) so it is best to plant 2 or three if the goal is to have it reforest an area. Red Maple is a prolific seed producer (double samaras in Spring) which germinate easily and so readily gives rise to subsequent generations. Be advised, however, that seedlings are a favorite food of White-tailed Deer so should be protected from browsing until trees reach about 4 to 6 feet tall.
As a bonus, Red Maple can be tapped for syrup and sugar production but, because it buds earlier than the Sugar Maple, sap extraction should be done only in the early part of sugaring season to ensure a sweet, quality product.
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
We’ll diverge into the conifer world for our third tree by focusing on the Eastern Hemlock. This lovely native of Eastern North America (from the Smokey Mountains north to Ontario and Quebec) is special among the conifers in that it can co-exist in a mature forest of deciduous trees due to its wonderful ability to tolerate shade. Once a tree or two take hold, if undisturbed, a grove of Hemlocks can begin to flourish as they reproduce via tiny seeded cones.
Known by naturalists for creating “blue shade,” the Eastern Hemlock is a very important tree for wildlife, particularly in Winter as it becomes food and shelter for White-tailed Deer who nibble on needles and bed themselves beneath protective branches. Birds and members of the Squirrel family also find relief from bitter winds and snows within the Hemlocks and enjoy the habitat a grove of these trees can create.
The Eastern Hemlock is also among the longest living trees in the East, maturing at about 200 to 300 years old and living to or beyond 800 years. Although a slow grower in its youth, the Hemlock can eventually attain heights of about 125 feet. It tolerates a variety of soil types, but does best in moist, well drained areas. It produces a lot of tiny cones, but its seed does not germinate easily, succumbing to various factors or staying dormant until conditions are right for germination.
Create yourself a nice windbreak and deep shade with the Eastern Hemlock and get satisfaction from knowing you are helping wildlife survive the toughest weather each year.