Meet the Trees of the Midwest
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Ten Trees You Can Find Nearby
From having a summertime snack in a shady spot to climbing to the highest branch, so many of our memories are rooted in nature and the trees that provide so much to us. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what our world would look like without the great forests of our preserves and parks or even the small woodlot or single tree we find in our own backyards.
But how much do you know about the trees near you? Scroll through the list below to meet the mighty species that clean our air, protect our water and provide habitat for the wildlife all around us!
1. American Basswood (Tilia americana)
An attractive shade tree, the American basswood can grow as tall at 60 to 80 feet with a round and lush crown made up of heart-shaped leaves. Its whiteish flowers are typically in bloom by mid-June and fill the summer air with a pleasant fragrance. Basswood is common in deciduous forests throughout the Midwest and makes for a popular yard and boulevard tree because of the benefits it provides for both people and urban wildlife!
Fun Fact: Nectar from basswood flowers is a favorite source of food for bees, as the pungent flowers help honeybees produce an especially delicious brand of honey.
2. American Elm (Ulmus americana)
Although its numbers have been impacted by Dutch elm disease, the American elm can still be found with its tall, arching branches creating a shady place to escape the hot summer sun. You can recognize this tree by its gray, furrowed bark and elliptical green leaves that have toothy edges. In the fall, these leaves turn a yellowish-brown that isn’t quite as ornamental as other species, such as the sugar maple.
Fun Fact: Mature elms can provide important habitat for eagles, ospreys, barred owls, a host of breeding songbirds and mammals such as roosting bats and flying squirrels. TNC is working to help our elm trees bounce back from the impact of Dutch elm disease.
3. Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
Also known as the northern hackberry and American hackberry, the common hackberry is easily recognizable from a distance by its light gray, warty bark on massive trunks. It is commonly used as a street tree because of its ability to withstand drought and urban environments, and it is among the best trees for wildlife. Their fruits have a raisin-like taste and are relished by birds.
Fun Fact: The pea-sized berries of the common hackberry are edible, ripening in early September, and their leaves are a primary food source for the larvae of several butterflies, including question marks and mourning cloaks.
4. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Found and adored throughout the Great Lakes and Midwest states, Eastern white pines are impressive to look at and soft to the touch. The largest conifer of the upper Midwest forests, white pines can grow as tall as 100 feet and up to more than three feet in diameter. Historically these trees had fallen victim to turn-of-the-century logging, leaving their populations at just a fraction of what they once were in many states. Reforestation efforts are underway, but know that if you plant one in your yard, you’ll need to protect it from deer browsing.
Fun Fact: White pines are the only five-needle pines found east of the Rocky Mountains and get their common name from the number of needles in each pine: W-H-I-T-E!
5. Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
The lacey, oval leaves of the honey locust tree are small enough to let a little sunlight through, which creates a beautiful dappled shade in the yards and gardens where it’s planted. Their flowers provide food for pollinators and their leaves turn a beautiful golden shade in the fall.
Fun Fact: This hardy tree can stand up to the stress of urban environments and thrive in places like parking lot islands and sidewalks. That’s why it’s often a go to tree for urban planners to help with erosion and other environmental challenges. Learn how urban trees can save lives.
6. Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Redbud is easy to identify in the spring, when the red buds of this small tree burst open into tiny purple blooms that line the branches for as long as two to three weeks. Its heart-shaped leaves will turn a golden yellow in the fall. Watch for redbud’s rounded crown appearing in yards and gardens, as it grows no more than 30 feet, making it a wonderful native species to add to your backyard.
Fun Fact: Because redbud trees bloom early, they are an important food source for pollinators, including early-season butterflies. Northern bobwhite and chickadees also like to snack on their seeds!
7. Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)
If you spot a tree with gray bark peeling in long, tough, vertical curls along its trunk, it’s likely to be a shagbark hickory. Another dead giveaway are the leaves, which resemble tulips when they emerge from their large, expanding pastel buds in the spring. A wide array of wildlife eats its tasty nuts.
Fun Fact: Love hickory-smoked meat or fish? That delicious flavor comes from the green wood of the shagbark hickory.
8. Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
A Midwest favorite, sugar maple is famous for its exceptional fall color. It is a large tree, commonly growing to more than 75 feet, with a rounded crown. With hard, dense wood, it is valued for its use as flooring, furniture, veneer, musical instruments and railroad ties.
Fun Fact: Native Americans invented the process of maple sap collection and its distillation into maple sugar and maple syrup.
9. Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
Like our other native oak trees, swamp white oaks are especially important for hungry migratory birds who rely on their acorns and the tasty insects hiding under their rough bark. They are also beautiful shade trees in summer, and their leaves sport a lovely gold or orange hue in the fall.
Fun Fact: Swamp white oaks take their scientific or Latin name, Quercus bicolor, from their two-toned leaves, which are a shiny dark green above with a lighter green to whitish surface below that flashes in the wind.
10. White Oak (Quercus alba)
The white oak has a significant presence, with the average tree growing between 80 to 100 feet tall and measuring two-to-four feet in diameter. Living on average between 200 to 300 years, the white oak produces acorns that are an important source of food for a wide variety of birds and mammals, including turkeys, woodpeckers, black bear and rabbits.
Fun Fact: The Wye Oak in Wye Mills, Maryland, was estimated to be over 450 years old when it finally fell in a thunderstorm in 2002.
Meet the Trees in Your Neighborhood
We hope this list will help you branch out and enjoy the trees all around you. And we hope you’ll continue to learn more about the species that thrive in the wetlands, prairies, forests and other wild places The Nature Conservancy works hard to protect for people and nature.