8 Top Trees Native to Arkansas to Consider Planting Today

The first explorers who reached Arkansas found the land covered in forests or woodland of some kind.

In general, the upland of the state was covered in pine/oak/hickory forests.

Lowland areas of southern Arkansas were covered in hardwood forests, with bald cypress and water tupelo swamps in the wettest areas.

The Gulf Coastal Plain in Southern Arkansas was covered by a mix of forest types, with Shortleaf and Loblolly Pine dominant in many areas.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas within these areas, there were at least 148 species of trees.

Whether you’re in the cooler and drier uplands or warmer and wetter low-lying areas, let’s take a look at 8 native species for you to consider planting today.

8 Arkansas Natives For You To Consider Planting

1. Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)

Shortleaf Pine
Image by Fairfax County via Flickr

The Pine tree was named the state tree of Arkansas. The Shortleaf Pine is prolific throughout the Ouachita Mountains but can be found across the state.

Shortleaf pines can grow up to 100 ft tall and shed the lower two-thirds of their branches in crowded forests. This can be either a blessing or a curse for anyone considering planting one. It will require less maintenance but could prove hazardous if left unchecked.

The Shortleaf pine has a broad and open crown, with short spreading branches forming a pyramidal shape as it ages. The needles of the Shortleaf Pine grow in clusters of 2-3, are bright green, and measure 3-5” long.

They are the hardiest of all the southern pine species, which accounts for how widespread they are. They can be found both on floodplains and rocky uplands.

Other Common Names: Arkansas Pine, Shortleaf Yellow Pine, Yellow Pine, Longtag Pine, Spruce Pine, Oldfield Pine, Shoestraw Pine

Growing Zones: 6-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and 20-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: February and March

2. Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum)

Winged Sumac
Image by sonnia hill via Flickr

Winged Sumac is a large deciduous shrub or small tree with short crooked trunks and open branching. The foliage is dark green and glossy; with pinnately compound leaves that turn reddish-purple in the fall.

Winged sumac forms yellow-green flowers and is followed by drooping, pyramidal fruit clusters which persist throughout the winter.

It can be distinguished from other sumacs by its winged leaf axis. The natural habitat of the winged sumac varies between full sun to partial shade in a variety of soil types; sandy to rocky; dry to mesic; prairies, and woodland edge. It’s an early successional species.

Winged Sumac is considered a very showy ornamental, but due to its spreading habit is not suited to smaller areas. Being a native, it provides food and habitat for game birds, songbirds, and small mammals, but only females produce berries.

They are fast-growing, pest and disease-free, and drought tolerant. Left unattended, they can easily form thickets.

Other Common Names: Shining Sumac, Dwarf Sumac, Flame-Leaf Sumac, Mountain Sumac, Wing-rib Sumac, Black Sumac, Upland Sumac

Growing Zones: 5-11

Average Size at Maturity: 7-15 ft tall and 10-20 ft wide

Flowering Season: July August

3. Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum)

Rusty Blackhaw
Image by Mary PK Burns via Flickr

Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum is a small tree or shrub that rarely exceeds 18 ft, but when it does its bark separates into dark rectangular plates.

It’s native to the Eastern and Central USA and can be found in rocky or dry woodlands and forests, and along streams and valleys. The name come from the rusty brown hairs that adorn the underside of leaves, stems, and buds.

Clusters of small white flowers mature in the spring and are followed by a blue drupe that matures in the fall. Multiple trees or shrubs will be needed for good berry production. Rusty Blackhaw grows in either full sun or partial shade in dry to moist loams.

Rusty Blackhaw is a host for azure butterflies. The fruit is eaten by songbirds, squirrels, and chipmunks.

Other Common Names: Rusty Black Haw, Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum, Rusty Nannyberry, Southern Blackhaw, Southern Blackhaw Viburnum

Growing Zones: 5b-9b

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

Flowering Season: Spring

4. Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

Red Buckeye
Image by manuel m. v. via Flickr

The Redbuckeye is a shrub or small tree, native to North Carolina, south to Florida, west to central Texas, and north to Illinois. Showy panicles of deep red or yellow bell-shaped flowers appear in the early spring.

The flower clusters are 10” long, whilst the individual flowers are 1- 1 ½ inches long. The leaves are made up of five leaflets that are joined at a central point on a stem as long as the leaf.

The foliage is dark green, glossy, finely toothed, and whitish on the underside. The Redbuckeye will often shed its leaves by the end of summer, so for maximum aesthetic appreciation can be placed somewhere with spring show, but that’s slightly hidden in the summer months.

Soap can be made from the roots and a black dye from the bark.

Other Common Names: Scarlet Buckeye, Firecracker Plant

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 10-15 ft tall and 10-14 wide in cultivation. Twice the size in the wild

Flowering Season: Early spring

5. Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

Kentucky Coffee Tree
Image by geneva_wirth via Flickr

The Kentucky Coffeetree is a standout in the landscape, due to its growth habit of coarse, ascending branches that form a narrow crown.

The drought and disease tolerance of this species, as well as its adaptability to many different soil types, has made it popular both as a shade and street tree in its native range and beyond.

The Kentucky Coffeetree is native to the central states; from Pennsylvania to Nebraska, and from Minnesota to Oklahoma, and is most common in open woodlands in the Bluegrass. The common name comes from the resemblance of the seeds to coffee beans.

The Kentucky Coffeetree is one of the last trees to come to leaf each spring. Greenish/white flowers appear at the same time as the leaves mature (late May to early June) Flowers on female trees have an aroma reminiscent of rose.

Green seedpods 5-10” long mature to brown and persists throughout the winter.

Other Common Names: Kentucky Coffee Tree

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 60-75 ft tall and 40-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late May to early June

6. Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)

Red Mulberry
Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr

If you’re looking to plant a native fruit tree, then consider planting the Red Mulberry in your yard. Red Mulberry is native to Eastern and Central North America and is a medium-sized tree with a short trunk and a rounded crown. The ovate leaves are up to 8” long with or without lobes.

The foliage is either unlobed or twice or thrice lobed with dark purple edible fruit. The Red Mulberry is threatened with hybridization from the introduced White Mulberry (Morus alba) introduced from Asia for silkworm production and enjoyed for its superior tasting fruit.

The Red Mulberry can be planted in full sun, partial shade, or shade, but fruit production will be best in full sun. It can be grown in sand, sandy loams, medium loam, clay loam, or clay. In the wild, the Red Mulberry is found in shady forests, along streams, riverbanks, ravines, ditches, and depressions.

Other Common Names: Red Mulberry

Growing Zones: 3-8

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

Flowering Season: March, April, May, June

7. Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata)

Overcup oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Overcup Oak is a deciduous tree with a rounded crown on maturity, that can take up to 30 years to produce acorns. The rounded crown is made up of often drooping branches and the acorns are almost entirely covered by the cup.

The leaves are narrow and deeply lobed. The Overcup oak is a medium to slow-growing tree with a grey bark that deeply furrows with scaly ridges with age.

The Overcup Oak is quite tolerant of flooding and inhabits wetter sites in the bottomlands of the Coastal Plain. The Overcup Oak is found on poorly drained, alluvial, clay soils, often on the southern river flood plains.

Other Common Names: Swamp Post Oak, Water White Oak, Swamp White Oak

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 45-70 ft tall and 35-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: March, April, May

8. Eastern Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)

Eastern Hop-Hornbeam
Image by Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr

The Eastern Hornbeam is a small, slender tree. The common name comes from the hardness of the wood and the hop-like fruit. In its native range, it’s found in dry rocky forests and sloped areas, mainly in deep well-drained soil.

The eastern hop-hornbeam often has a rounded to oval crown and horizontal drooping branches. It’s a slow-growing, small-to-medium understory tree. The shaggy bark provides winter interest.

The leaves are similar to birch leaves, and the form of the tree makes it easily confused with elms. It’s easily grown in most soil types but will favor loams and prefers partial to deep shade. It’s tolerant of heavy clay soils and drought, making it suitable in urban landscapes, although it won’t tolerate salt.

Other Common Names: American Hop-Hornbeam, Hop-Hornbeam, Hop Horn Beam, Leverwood, Ironwood, Wooly Hop Hornbeam

Growing Zones: 6-9

Average Size at Maturity: 20-40 ft tall and 15-30 ft wide

Flowering Season: June, July, August

Wild Cultivation

Planting natives has the benefit that the trees are already suited to the local environment and will require little upkeep. This can be especially useful for new gardeners who perhaps are lacking in experience or confidence in tree care.

Planting natives also has the added benefit of providing food, habitat, and shelter for local wildlife.

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