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Natural Awakenings Magazine Daytona | Volusia | Flagler

Native Trees add Beauty and Purpose in the Landscape

Sep 01, 2020 01:13PM ● By Katie Tripp, Phd.

There’s an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Intended as a metaphor for taking positive action in our lives, the proverb also applies literally. Native trees are important to include in our landscapes, and since they take time to grow, there’s no time like the present to introduce them. In addition to the glorious benefits of shade that shields us and our air conditioning bills from the heat of the sun, trees make oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide; provide habitat for birds, insects and small mammals; and add beauty and interest to our landscapes.

         The first consideration when selecting a new tree is the habitat into which it will be placed. Certain trees are tolerant of salt spray from the ocean, while others are not. Trees also vary in their preferred soil type and ability to withstand high winds. Next, determine whether seasonal leaf or seed drop would be problematic. For example, in a smaller yard, the large leaves of a sycamore or spikey seed pods of the sweetgum may prove too messy. Then, consider the height and circumference of the tree when it matures to ensure it will fit safely within the available space and not interfere with powerlines, roof lines or property boundaries. Third, account for the extent of a mature tree’s roots, which will be at least as wide as the mature canopy, if not wider. It’s important to do this because growing roots can interfere with underground plumbing, home and swimming pool foundations, and patio or deck areas. Finally, define the most important objectives for a new tree, such as curb appeal provided by spring flowers or unique leaf shape; shade; food for birds and other wildlife; or hosting caterpillar species to increase butterfly diversity. 

         For curb appeal, consider flatwoods plum (Prunus umbellata), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) or white fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus). These attractive trees also provide nectar for pollinators when in bloom. It’s hard to beat any of Florida’s big, beautiful oak trees for shade, and we have a number of native varieties, including bluejack, Chapman’s, myrtle, runner, sand live and turkey oak. Red mulberry (Morus rubra) is an excellent choice for providing food for wildlife, or ourselves. Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) is another interesting tree with white blooms, fall color, and berries for wildlife. Female yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) trees produce attractive red berries eaten by birds. The evergreen leaves of yaupon can be dried and made into a wonderful caffeinated tea filled with antioxidants. The weeping yaupon is an attractive specimen tree, and all are female, which guarantees berries for winter birds. Some native trees serve as a host plant for butterflies, including wild lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) and Hercules-club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis). It’s important to know the Latin names of desired trees when shopping to confirm that the native variety is being sold.

         Purchasing trees when they are smaller helps ensure they will adapt to the conditions in which they are planted, and also provides cost savings. Whether looking to establish a tree canopy or augment a landscape with understory trees, there are native varieties available to suit any Florida yard. Visit to find a local native nursery that can assist with tree selection, planting and care.


Katie Tripp, Ph.D., is the owner of Natural Beauty Native Florida Landscapes, LLC. She created her business to educate Floridians about the importance of utilizing native plants and to help residents create wildlife habitat. Tripp is an active member of the Pawpaw chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and a member of the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Connect with her at 727-504-4740 or [email protected]