Native Flowering Trees
While imported Chinese and Japanese Crabapples and Callery Pears dominate the May landscape, native ornamental trees are not only equally showy, but contribute to the environment.
The first to bloom is Wild Plum (Prunus americanus). Seen in roadside thickets, along fencelines, or sometimes growing in the open, its snowy blossoms are spectacular against a brilliant blue sky.
Underplant it, as Jens Jensen did, with Virginia Bluebells.
My first acquaintance with the redbud dates back a quarter of a century. It was on an excursion to the historic spot of Starved Rock on the Illinois River. Everywhere the bluffs were colored with the blossoms of the redbud. To me, who had never seen this plant before, it was a delightful experience.
(Does anyone have photos of this? If so, please share. It must be stunning!–Pat)
The Redbud (Cercis canadenses) is among the lovliest of our native flowering trees, found in the wild from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri south almost to the gulf. An understory tree common in the woods just south of Chicago, it is rare to the north of it. It has, however, been planted and naturalized in forest preserves that surround the city, but not in Kane County.
Early in May, before the leaves emerge, tiny purplish fuchsia, pea-blossom flowers begin to bloom all along the branches and even the trunk of the tree, exquisite against the black bark.
The trunk of the Redbud divides at ground level, forming a spreading crown that gives it a sculptural quality. It will grow 20-30 ‘ tall with an even greater spread.
Redbud is an understory tree–it tolerates full sun but grows best with shade from taller trees. Like the Serviceberry, it’s splendid against the corner of a house or a patio, as long as it has some shade. Or use it as a focal point of a naturalized area. An added bonus–Redbud will reseed itself and one will have added treasures. One caution: buy Redbuds grown locally–those grown in the south usually are not hardy in the north.
Four ducks on a pond,
A grass bank beyond,
A blue sky of spring,
White clouds on the wing;
A white cloud of blossoms covers the bare branches of Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), also known as Shadbush or Juneberry, usually in early to mid-April before the downy leaves unfold, but this year it is just now beginning to bloom–the first week in May. Its cousin, the Allegheny Shadblow (Amelanchier laevis) begins to bloom a week later when its bronze-colored, smooth leaves are half-open. Both are multi-stemmed, upright, shrublike, small trees that grow 15-25 ‘ tall with a variable spread. The downy leaves of the Apple Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora), a naturally occurring hybrid between the two, emerge purple; its flowers are larger than those of its parents. The most available Serviceberry in commerce, it grows 25’-30’ tall with wide-spreading horizontal branches.
In the Midwest, Serviceberry is found most often on steep slopes in the high dune areas next to Lake Michigan. They are also found in mesic and dry-mesic woodland and on woodland edges. They are native from the east coast to the Mississippi River and into Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.
It’s superb planted at the corner of a house, wherever your house is situated, in a savanna or in a small neighborhood lot. It shows off best against a dark colored house.
Amelanchier is a host plant for the Red-spotted Purple butterfly, while the luscious red berries, ripening in June, are attractive to birds–especially Cedar Waxwing, American Robin, Wood Thrush, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak–and people alike. (Wilhelm and Rericha, Vascular Flora of the Chicago Region).
Underplant the above with Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) and Shooting Star (Dodecatheon media).
None of these 3 trees are suitable for street tree planting.