19 Beautiful North Carolina Native Trees You Should Grow

  • Time to read: 9 min.

If you’re a native North Carolinian, you may be thinking about designing your landscape to include trees from your home state. Not only can these trees add a sense of place to your yard, but they also provide a natural habitat for local birds and other wildlife.

North Carolina native trees are generally easier to care for than non-native ones and look great in any garden or landscape design. Check out our list of the best NC natives below to find the perfect tree for your home!

Here are some of the most common trees in North Carolina for your garden:

1. Sweetbay Magnolia

Magnolia Virginiana

Sweetbay Magnolia | Photo 113537782 © Claudiodivizia | Dreamstime.com

This tree has very sweet and exotic-looking flowers appearing in the Spring and Summer. This particular type of Magnolia is quite mess-free, important if you grow it in a garden. It can grow to 30 feet in cooler areas and as much as 50 feet in warmer areas, so bear this in mind when you are planting.

This Magnolia tree likes wet soils and should see at least some sun during the day. They can also tolerate full sun.

2. Tupelo Gum/ Blackgum or Sourgum

Nyssa Sylvatica

Black Tupelo Tree | Photo 200678260 © Marion Meyer | Dreamstime.com

The wood from this tree is often used to make crates or boxes. The tree itself can grow in wet soils and can cope with flooding. It has flowers of green/ white color and also produces a purple fruit. This tree is very colorful and pretty in fall as its leaves change color. In nature, this tree can grow from 60 to 100 feet tall. For more check Britannica.com

3. Carolina Hemlock

Tsuga Caroliniana

This is a perennial tree that grows to between 36 and 72 ft. It prefers some shade during the day but can cope with a maximum of 6 hours of sun every 24 hours. It has flowers in Spring (March and April).

This tree mainly grows in the mountains and likes dry, rocky soil. It is often found in Forests in the Piedmont area.

4. Red Mulberry Tree

Morus Rubra

Red Mulberry | Photo 24484213 © Eric Krouse | Dreamstime.com

This tree is not just native to North Carolina, it can be found in a large area in Eastern and Central North America. It generally grows to about 30-50 feet tall.

The fruit on the trees are really popular with local birds and so they are a good source of food for them. In the autumn the leaves go yellow. Wood from these trees can be cut and used to smoke meats as the flavor this produces is very sweet.

5. American Beech

Fagus Grandifolia

American Beech | Photo 34697561 © Satori13 | Dreamstime.com

This tree is a good choice for those looking to add some shade and give their yard a more natural feel. It does need quite a large area, though, as it can grow to 60 or even 80 feet tall. It is best grown in damp soils.

One problem with this tree is its tendency to suffer from insects or disease, so be careful of this. The aphids that can exist on these trees are a good source of food for the Harvester Butterfly.

6. Eastern Red Cedar

Juniperus Virginiana

Eastern Red Cedar (juniperus virginiana) | Photo 12927578 © Paul Lemke | Dreamstime.com

This tree is used by gardeners as a windbreak, as well as as an erosion barrier, due to its tough root structure and dense canopy. It also produces fragrant wood that’s great for fires or furniture-making. The wood of these trees was also used to make pencils. They can grow as tall as 40 to 50 feet.

This tree needs at least 6 hours of sun each day and grows in acidic or alkaline soil. It can tolerate the odd flooding or drought. One interesting point to note, according to arborday.org, is that this tree should not be planted close to an apple tree as it can experience rust.

7. Tulip Poplar

Liriodendron Tulipifera

Tulip Tree | Photo 121661788 © Andrei Stancu | Dreamstime.com

This tree is widespread throughout the Eastern US. It can grow as high as 150 feet in its natural forest habitat but you can expect it to reach 70 to 90 feet in your garden. Flowers appear in May and June. This tree grows fast.

To grow this tree you need deep soil that is moist and preferably slightly acidic. It enjoys full sun. It is not drought tolerant like some of the trees listed here so be sure to water it sufficiently in drier periods in the summer.

8. Paw Paw

Asimina Triloba.

Paw Paw | Photo 191218941 / Asimina Triloba © Marina Denisenko | Dreamstime.com

According to the National Park Service, this tree is very popular for its fruit. It is native to the US and is relatively easy to grow, not requiring much care or attention. It doesn’t suffer from pests or diseases like other trees mentioned here.

You want to plant your Paw Paw tree in a semi-shady position in well-drained soil. Leaves turn yellow and then brown in Fall, which can be a pretty sight in your garden. Indeed, this is a great choice of tree to plant in North Carolina!

9. Flowering Dogwood

Cornus Florida

Flowering Dogwood | Photo 12425848 © John Anderson | Dreamstime.com

This tree is well known for its amazing flowers which bloom in Spring. It also has fruit but they do not taste particularly nice. They suffer from fungus and for this reason, they are an endangered species.

Dogwood is a fairly small tree and does not grow to more than 20 feet tall. The fruit is a pretty red color and ripens in September and October. Many animals feed on the fruit including some birds, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, etc.

The wood from this tree was once used to make golf clubs! It is still used to make jewelry boxes.

10. American Holly/ Christmas Holly

Ilex Opaca.

Christmas Holly | Photo 47798785 © Elisa Bistocchi | Dreamstime.com

A stunning tree that can grow anywhere from 15-50 feet and even up to 75 feet in nature. It grows more in moist conditions. White or green flowers appear from March to June.

The Holly tree is evergreen and often features as a decorative hedge or to provide shade in a garden. The fruit is poisonous for us, but many birds and some mammals can eat the berries. So, planting this tree will help attract some local wildlife into your garden.

11. Hoptree

Ptelea Trifoliata

Hoptree | Photo 101719175 © Vnikitenko | Dreamstime.com

The Hoptree is another tree that attracts butterflies. It has flowers that have a lemony smell and this tree grows slowly. It grows to 15-20 feet. It can be positioned in partly shady areas. Flowers bloom in spring. It should be grown in an area that is well-drained but is mostly a trouble-free and hassle-free tree. Very little pruning or maintenance is needed to keep this tree looking its best.

12. Sassafras

Sassafras Albidum

Sassafras | Photo 117905024 © William Wise | Dreamstime.com

The reasons why you might want to grow this particular native tree include the fact that it has distinctively shaped leaves and pretty flowers that bloom in the spring months. the berries it produces are a food source for some species of birds and butterflies also inhabit the tree.

This tree should be planted either in full sun or in part shade. It may grow to 30-60 feet tall. You can find this tree in forests and along the sides of roads in many areas along the Eastern side of the US.

It should be grown in moist acidic soils but can also adapt to sandy, drier soils too. You can keep this tree limited to an isolated specimen or you can allow it to spread and form a hedge or thicket by allowing its suckers to spread and take root. The tree also looks wonderful in the fall.

13. Red Maple

Acer Rubrum

Red Maple | Photo 128456711 / Acer Rubrum © Angelacottingham | Dreamstime.com

A gorgeous, colorful tree in any season which is a great addition to your landscape. Leaves are red and then turn green. They may also turn yellow in the fall. Size varies from 40 to 60 feet in height. They grow quite rapidly (as much as two feet per year in height).

The Red Maple likes full sun and at least six hours per day. It grows in many different soils including acidic, loam, and wet soils that are well-draining.

14. Yellow Birch

Betula Alleghaniensis

Note that these trees grow differently when isolated in a garden compared to when they are in dense forests. In a garden, they are candelabra-shaped but much straighter in natural settings. Normally grows to 50 feet but can be as tall as 100 feet. These trees tend to bloom in April-June and have flowers of green, yellow or brown.

To grow these trees you should plant them in moist or wet soil in a shady or partly shady location. These trees may live as long as 100 years or more.

15. Yellowwood

Cladrastis Kentukea

American Yellowwood | Photo 91830695 © Larry Metayer | Dreamstime.com

The Yellowwood can be planted in alkaline and clay soils. It can tolerate both dry spells and wet. It needs at least 6 hours of full sun per day. It can be damaged in freezing conditions. It generally grows to 30-50 feet high.

It has decorative pea-like flowers and also grows seedpods. The tree is best used as shade and as a decorative addition to any garden with suitable conditions.

16. Cucumber Magnolia

Magnolia Acuminata

Cucumber Magnolia | Photo 72984453 © Nikolai Kurzenko | Dreamstime.com

One added bonus of planting this tree is that the flowers and buds are edible. The bark has traditionally been used for medicinal purposes, in particular for colds and diarrhea. (Whether it works or not is another question.)

This tree will attract birds and other wildlife that forage on its fruit after it falls to the ground. It can grow in shade, part shade, or sun but needs moist acidic soil to thrive. It grows at a medium speed to a maximum of 60-75 feet.

Flowers appear in May and June.

17. Red Spruce

Picea Rubens

Red Spruce | Photo 140989621 © Bob Grabowski | Dreamstime.com

The Red Spruce is a kind of conifer. The red in its name is because its bark is reddish in color. This tree is evergreen and may grow to as high as 60-130 feet. It grows slowly and may live as long as 250-450 years. It thrives in moist but sandy soil.

18. American Linden AKA American Basswood

Tilia Americana

American Basswood | Photo 218907751 © Pjgibson | Dreamstime.com

This perennial tree is from the Mallow family. It grows in moist soil and prefers either sunny or partly shady areas (minimum of 2 hours sun per day). Its yellow flowers can be seen in May-July. It will grow to a height of 36-72 feet tall.

19. Red Oak

Quercus Rubra

Red Oak | Photo 130479752 © Lerka555 | Dreamstime.com

The final tree in this list is beautiful and provides shade in summer and looks glorious in the fall when its leaves change color. It is quite a hardy species and puts down deep roots. It can grow to 60-75 feet tall.

This oak tree should be planted in the spring before any hot weather so it has time to settle before any heat or dryness.

Why are Native Trees Important?

It is important to understand that not all trees are the same, nor are they interchangeable. Native trees are one of the most significant contributions to biodiversity in an area. They provide a critical habitat for native birds and mammals and they also ensure that we have a diverse and sustainable ecosystem for generations to come.

The importance of native trees is not just in their importance for the environment, but also in the economic and cultural significance they hold. The native trees you should grow in the North Carolina area include the Sweetbay Magnolia, Tupelo Gum, Hoptree, Red Maple, and many more.

The Importance of Native Trees for North Carolina

Native trees are critically important to the Southern United States (and NC in particular). They provide an aesthetically pleasing environment, help with stormwater management, and offer localized biodiversity.

A tree is considered a “native” species when it has lived or grown naturally in an area without any outside interference for at least 100 years. It does not mean that the tree originated there; it just means that it has lived there for at least 100 years without any human assistance. This includes both agricultural and urban settings.

North Carolina native plants have their own set of benefits and challenges. So think about the kind of tree and the location where you will plant them, being careful to plant them in as close to an ideal natural setting as you can. This way you will ensure that you do not have any problems growing these native trees.

Conclusion

So there you have it. My choice of 19 of the best native trees you can plant in North Carolina. By planting these you are playing your part in conserving these valuable species and helping to protect and the local environment and wildlife. I hope this list has given you some great ideas!

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