Spring-flowering Native Trees

Spring-flowering Native Trees

 The Chinese magnolias and crabapples are lovely in blossom in the spring, but I prefer our native ornamental trees, usually in bloom in late April or early May, that are blossoming now.

Four ducks on a pond

A grass bank beyond

A blue sky of spring

White clouds on the wing.

William Allingham


The first is Serviceberry or Juneberry (Amelanchier spp.).  A white cloud of delicate blossoms covers the bare, smooth silvery branches of this multi-stemmed ornamental tree, usually in mid-to late april into May, but it’s blooming now–in March.


It shows off best against a dark background, as here.




There are two species of Amelanchier generally available in commerce:  Amelanchier arborea, called Serviceberry, Juneberry, or Shadbush, and  Amelanchier laevis, called Allegheny Shadblow.  In addition, a  naturally occurring hybrid, Amelanchier x grandiflora  or Apple Serviceberry, has been cultivated since 1870 and is also found in garden centers, usually as a cultivar.  Serviceberry can grow up to 25’ tall  and 15’ -25’ wide.  It has a horizontal branching pattern, which makes it good choice to place at the corner of a house or building, as shown in the above two pictures. The leaves of Allegheny Shadblow open bronze in the spring and  have a more brilliant fall color than Amelanchier arborea, according to Dick Young in Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Areas.


A true 4-season tree, it produces juicy, red berries in June, similar in taste to a blueberry.  It may be eaten out of hand or combined with blueberries or raspberries in a pie or in muffins.  You have to act fast or the birds will eat them first!  (Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the tree in fruit–on my list for this summer.)






In fall the foliage turns bright scarlet and in winter the smooth pewter bark, multi-stems, and branching pattern are exquisite against the snow.


Amelanchier seems to be more populous in the east than in the Midwest. (I had never heard of it until 1990 when I started taking classes in Ornamental Horticulture.)  Most of our indigenous trees in the Chicago Region are found in the dune areas around Lake Michigan, particularly on slopes, associating with Black Oak.  It’s also found as an understory tree in mesic woods with Red Maple, White and Red Oak, Hornbeam, and Hop Hornbeam, according to Swink and Wilhelm.


It does seem to grow well in full sun, but I prefer to see it within a plant community in partial shade.  It will not tolerate wet soil.  Sometimes it’s used as a street tree, but it doesn’t have the presence of a street tree, nor will it shade either the street or the sidewalk.

My first acquantance with the redbud dates back a quarter of a cnetury.  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.

Jens Jensen


The other tree is Redbud (Cercis canadensis).  Native just to the south of Kane and DuPage Counties in Illinois and throughout the south and southeast, it nevertheless grows well in our area–just be sure to buy locally grown trees.  Those that are propagated in the south are not hardy here.  It, too, is an understory tree, growing in the shade of Kentucky Coffee Tree,  Honey Locust, Red and Chinquapin Oak, and Big-leaved Linden in a dry-mesic area, again according to Swink and Wilhelm.



Redbud has a definite horizontal orientation–this the perfect tree to reflect the horizontal lines on this prairie-style house pictured.  This is in the town I live in and I visit it every spring to to see the beautiful composition.


I know I have shown you this Redbud before–it’s a couple of blocks from my house.  Stunning, isn’t it?



My Redbud are still young, but they provide shade from the morning and afternoon sun   in my patio.  They only have 2 stems each, but the lower branches are growing horizontally.


I noticed, driving around town yesterday, that there were some Redbud growing on a single trunk that gave it  an upright oval shape.  The blossoms were, of course, dazzling, but, to my mind, it is not as picturesque nor have the  character that a multi-stem tree does..  Some were even planted as street trees and I have the same reservations for Redbud as I do for Serviceberry.  The hot, dry, sunny situation is not conducive to its health and it is not large enough to shade the sidewalk or the street–the primary purpose of a street tree.



Redbud seedpods in September

This was September 2010–evidently the seedpods only form every other year because there weren’t any last year.  This is true of many nut and fruit trees.  Some people think all seeds, pods, and fruit on trees is “messy” and to be avoided, but I think they add character and interest.  Redbud reproduces itself readily and you will soon have babies.



As I showed you last October, Redbud foliage turns to glorious gold in the fall.



It creates a stunning winter silhouette.


Now you know that I am going to recommend you plant them in a bed of sedges and wildflowers, don’t you?


You will not find Serviceberry and Redbud growing together in nature, but both of them are found in dry-mesic woods.  Plant them where they have shade for part of the day and underplant them with any or all of the following sedges: Graceful Sedge (Carex gracillima), Penn Sedge (C. pensylvanica), Short-headed Bracted Sedge (C. cephalaphora) and/or Curly-styled Wood Sedge (C. rosea); then add Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), Red Trillium (Trillium recurvatum), Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum), American Bellflower (Campanula americana) and Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia).



An underplanting of Wild Geranium and and Penn Sedge

 c. Patricia Hill, Elgin, IL 2012

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