12 Different Types Of Pennsylvania Native Trees

Pennsylvania is home to over 2,100 native plant species.

The translation of Pennsylvania from Latin is ‘Penn’s Woods,’ which is a testament to the array of different species that originally hail from this area.

Of these 2,100 species, 134 are native trees, alongside 62 introduced ones. The topography of the land ranges from coastal plains to mountain ridge-tops and high plateaux.

Human development often spells destruction for wildlands where natives grow. Alongside this destruction comes the introduction of non-native species, who may look pretty, but can end up becoming invasive and pushing out native populations.

Pennsylvania’s climate ranges from USDA 5a in high-elevation areas to 7b in parts of Philadelphia Counties and Delaware.

Let’s look at some of the native tree species that grow in PA.

1. Red Maple – Acer rubrum

Red Maple - Acer rubrum
Image by Claire Lauvergne from Pixabay

A fast-growing deciduous tree noted for its fall color. It has a pyramidal shape when young but the crown matures into a round/oval shape. The leaves emerge red in spring, then turn dark green with a white underside, then eye-catching reds and yellows in fall. Excellent as a specimen plant, as it provides fall and winter interest making it a good choice for front lawns or streets.

Other Common Names: Red maple, swamp maple, soft maple, water maple.

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70ft tall and 30-50 ft wide.

Flowering Season: Tiny red flowers emerge in early spring. They emerge in clusters before the leaves, followed by red fruit.

2. River Birch – Betula nigra

River Birch - Betula nigra
Image by mobinovyc from Pixabay

A fast-growing deciduous tree that is well suited to damp areas, as it’s native to swamps and flood plains of the eastern US. It also tolerates drier zones. It can be a single or multi-stemmed tree. When young, it has a pyramid shape, which changes to a more round as it ages. The exfoliating (peeling) bark gives this tree year round-appeal with its cinnamon-cream appearance. The leaves turn yellow in fall and can be grown in full sun or partial shade.

Other Common Names: River birch.

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 35-40 ft wide.

Flowering Season: Male flowers are catkins, appearing in summer and fall, and remaining on the tree throughout winter. In spring, the male flowers bloom. Female flowers are located on the same tree and resemble a small pinecone when mature.

3. Flowering Dogwood – Cornus florida

Flowering Dogwood - Cornus florida
Image by Jana McLain from Pixabay

A small growing tree with a low spreading crown adapted to life in the shade of hickories, maples, and oaks. It can develop into a single or multi-stemmed tree with long-lasting pink and white blooms in spring. The crown and trunk can be short, and the branches tend to spread horizontally, making it one of the showiest and most spectacular native flowering trees.

It’s deciduous, has red fruits and scarlet-red fall foliage.

Other Common Names: Virginia Dogwood, Florida Dogwood, White Cornel, Arrowwood, American Boxwood, False Box, St. Peter’s Crown, Corona De San Pedro

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 25ft – 40 ft. Often wider than it is tall.

Flowering Season: April – June.

4. Shagbark Hickory – Carya ovata

Shagbark Hickory - Carya ovata
Photo Nicholas A. Tonelli by from PxHere

A tall, stately, and long-lived member of the walnut family. Provide strong landmark features, with their loosely plated bark ‘shaggy,’ bark that makes it easy to identify. Found in low, moist, banks, flood plains, and swamps. Yellow-green blooms appear in spring, followed by edible nuts that are an important food source for many animals. Leaves turn golden/bronze in fall.

The easy-to-spot, tough grey bark peels in long curls off the straight trunk, which often splits mid-way up the tree. Has a deep taproot, so transplanting is difficult in all but the youngest of seedlings, so choose your site well. Ideally grows in full sun/part sun, in rich, moist soil, but is adaptable.

Other Common Names: Shellbark hickory, Shagbark, Scalybark hickory, and Upland hickory

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 70- 90 ft tall and 50-70 ft wide.

Flowering Season: Small, green/yellow flowers in spring.

5. Cucumber-Tree Magnolia – Magnolia acuminata

Cucumber-Tree Magnolia - Magnolia acuminata
Image by 165106 from Pixabay

An attractive tree with a straight trunk and pyramidical crown. The hardiest of all magnolias, the cucumber tree makes a superb shade or specimen tree for a large landscape. Yellowish-green, tulip-shaped, slightly fragrant flowers emerge in late spring to early summer open with the emerging leaves on mature trees (12 years.)

The flower buds are edible, followed by cucumber-like fruit which turns from green to red and split open to reveal small red seeds in late summer. These fruits become a source of nutrition for foraging birds and small mammals. The huge (up to 10inches) ovate, deep green foliage turns yellow in fall. The bark is dull and smooth on young trees, turning brown, ridged, and furrowed on mature trees.

Other Common Names: Mountain magnolia, cucumbertree, cucumber tree, cucumber tree magnolia.

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 ft tall, 20-30ft wide.

Flowering Season: Late spring to early summer.

6. Black Gum (Tupelo)- Nyssa sylvatica

Black Gum (Tupelo)- Nyssa sylvatica
Image by Annette Meyer from Pixabay

Also commonly known as the black tupelo, this tree is found on ridge tops, rocky slopes, and moist woods. An attractive deciduous tree with a variable shape, and nearly horizontal, slender branches. Usually has either a dense, conical, or flat-topped crown, with waxy, glossy foliage that turns scarlet in the fall.

A good option for a bog or water garden. If grown in this kind of environment within shallow water, the trunk will form into a bottle shape. The deep root makes it ideally suited for understory planting of shrubs and wildflowers. Small, blue berries are eaten by birds and mammals, and the pollen is a nectar source for bees.

Other Common Names: Black Tupelo, tupelo, black gum, or sour gum.

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-60ft tall, and 20-30ft wide.

Flowering Season: Small, green/white flowers appear in April/May around the leaf set. Whilst small and unassuming, they’re an important source of nectar for many pollinators.

7. Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum

Sugar Maple - Acer saccharum
Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli from PxHere

Sugar maples are best known as being the source of maple syrup. They also stand out beautifully in the landscape; the leaves are a darkish green and turn yellow/burnt orange-red in the fall. They are shade tolerant, do best in well-drained, moderately moist rich soil, and don’t tolerate salt well.

Sugar maples have a straight main trunk with wide-spreading branches, with a pointed crown. They’re attractive landscape elements, reaching up to 75ft tall, although in the wild you can expect to find them much taller. This popular hardwood species also makes a good shade tree.

Other Common Names: Northern sugar maple.

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 60-75 0ft tall, and40-50 ft wide.

8. Sweetbay Magnolia – Magnolia virginiana

Sweetbay Magnolia - Magnolia virginiana

A slow-growing native magnolia that makes an excellent patio tree. It has large dark green glossy leaves and flamboyant white flowers from May until the early summer. The flowers are ever so slightly fragrant and are evergreen throughout most winters.

Sweetbay magnolia tolerates wet and moist soils, does best in acidic soils, and can be grown in full sun or partial shade. They are usually multi-trunked trees but can grow as single trunk specimens. The fruit turns a scarlet red color in the fall, providing food for many species of birds.

Other Common Names: Sweetbay Magnolia

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 10-20 ft tall and 10-20 ft wide.

Flowering Season: Showy white flowers from May throughout early summer.

9. Serviceberry – Amelanchier arborea (Native Fruit Tree)

Serviceberry - Amelanchier arborea (Native Fruit Tree)
Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

The serviceberry burst forth with life in spring, but its flowering used to be used by early settlers in central Pennsylvania as a sign that it was warm enough to have funeral services for their loved ones who died over the frozen winter, hence the name.

Also known as the juneberry because of the blueberry-like fruits that appear in June, following the white flowers in early spring. The foliage becomes a beautiful orange-red in the fall. The fruit is edible and tasty, but you’ll have to get there before the birds and other animals who also love the taste.

Serviceberry is about the same size as dogwood, and can be pruned into a single-trunked tree or left as a multi-stemmed specimen. They can be grown in full sun or part shade as part of an understory.

Other Common Names: Juneberry, Amelanchier tree, Sarviss berry, shadbush, and shadblow.

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 15-25 ft tall and 15-20 ft wide.

Flowering Season: Early spring.

10. Eastern hemlock – Tsuga canadensis

Eastern hemlock - Tsuga canadensis
Image by markapgar from Pixabay

Eastern hemlocks love shaded, cool stream valleys, which are abundant in PA. The eastern hemlock is the state tree of Pennsylvania, known for its gigantic trunk and evergreen foliage, and tremendous utility (hemlock played an important role in the industrialization of America.) They grow pyramidal in shape and work well as screens or in a group in the landscape.

Hemlock is emblematic of Penn’s Wood’s and provides critical food and shelter for forest songbirds and other wildlife. However, this emblematic species of the area is threatened by an invasive insect; the hemlock woolly adelgid, introduced from Asia, after arriving 50 years ago after being accidentally introduced to Virginia.

Infestation can be spotted by wooly, egg-like masses on the underside of hemlock needles. Trees lose vigor and the needles start to yellow. The hemlock woolly adelgid sucks the nutrient-dense needles, and an infested tree often dies. Eastern hemlocks are tolerant of wind, drought, and heavy soil.

Other Common Names: Eastern hemlock-spruce, Canadian hemlock, and pruche du Canada, in French-speaking Canada.

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 ft although can reach 100ft tall, 25-35 ft wide.

11. Pawpaw – Asimina triloba (Native Fruit Tree)

Pawpaw - Asimina triloba
Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

The pawpaw belongs to the Annonaceae family; the same family as custard apple, many varieties of which are plentiful around tropical/subtropical regions of the Americas. The pawpaw is the only variety that is found in the temperate climates of North America. Its native range stretches as far north as southern new york and New England.

In the wild pawpaw is a small understory tree, and likes well-drained, moderately rich soil. They’re most productive in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. The oblong fruit weighs 6-12 ounces and is described as having a taste somewhere between mango, banana, and pineapple.

The fruit has a thin skin that’s green when immature, turning light green/yellow upon maturity towards the end of August to September. The fruit has to be eaten within a few days of being harvested as they don’t store well.

Pawpaws are pollinated by flies and not bees, and fruit production varies greatly from year to year. Birds and other forest animals feed on the ripe fruit in the wild.

Other Common Names: American papaw, pawpaw, paw paw, or paw-paw. Many other common names compare it to a banana, rather than papaya, including; wild banana, prairie banana, Appalachian banana, Ozark banana, banango, or hillbilly mango. Native American names include iwahárikstikuc (Pawnee) tózhaⁿ hu (Kansa) and umbi (Choctaw)

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 15-20ft tall, and 15-20 ft wide.

Flowering season: April/May; either just before or with the first leaves.

Fruiting time: Late August to September.

12. Black Cherry – Prunus serotina (Native Fruit Tree)

Black Cherry - Prunus serotina
Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli from PxHere

Found in woods, floodplains, fencerows, and thickets, the black cherry is a fast-growing, multi-stemmed, easy-to-grow tree. When grown in the open it becomes oval crowned with spreading pendulous branches, with crowded trees becoming tall and slender,

White flowers appear after the glossy foliage. Black cherries’ prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil and are moderately tolerant to drought. Following the bloom in May, edible purplish-black fruit appears, which are used for beverages and in cooking. Other parts of the tree contain amygdalin and can be toxic.

Black cherry is one of North America’s most important hardwoods and provides food and nesting for over 33 species of wildlife, whilst also being attractive to birds and butterflies.

Other Common Names: Wild black cherry, rum cherry, mountain black cherry.

Growing Zones: 2-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80ft tall, 30-50 ft wide.

Flowering season: May

Fruiting time: June-October

Abundant Woods

Penn’s Wood’s are immensely ecologically diverse, as you can tell from the wide variety of species listed here. The different topography of the land means it’s host to a whole array of different species, of which we’ve only scratched the surface of here. From mountain ridges, to flood and coastal plains, the wilderness of PA is steeped in ecological diversity.

Whilst some of these species may not be suited for your home garden, they can be enjoyed by taking a trip into the wild to see them in their natural habitat.

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