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Common Small Trees in Georgia

Florida or Southern Sugar Maple / Acer barbatum

Southern Sugar Maple TreeFamily: Maple/Aceraceae

Characteristics: Florida or Southern Sugar Maple is a deciduous tree of medium texture and also features a slow to medium growth rate. It has a rounded and sometimes spreading canopy which is more pyramidal when it's young. It has a few pest problems. The underneath area of the leaf is lighter in color than the upper side. The bark is smooth in texture and gray in color. Autumn color is variable, ranging from yellow to orange or rusty-red. It is not as colorful as Sugar Maple. Considered a close relative of Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Southern Sugar Maple is more tolerant of the high summer temps and humidity of Georgia than the northern Sugar Maples.

Landscape Uses: Southern Sugar Maple could be used as a shade, specimen or street tree. Plant it in acid soils with adequate moisture, since it is only moderately drought tolerant. It could require pruning in youth to get the best shape.

Size: 35 to 40 feet tall with a spread of 25 to 35 feet

Zones: 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Along stream banks and moist upland sites in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. It is typically found along areas with water.

Native To: Southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, Kentucky and Virginia, south to Florida and west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma.

Comments: Southern Sugar Maple is growing to be more popular in the nursery trade in the Deep South of the U.S.

Downy Serviceberry / Amelanchier arborea

Downy ServiceberryFamily: Rose/Rosaceae

Characteristics: Downy Serviceberry is a deciduous, flowering tree with medium-fine texture, narrow-rounded crown and also a medium growth rate. It blooms in early springtime (April) with bunches of pendulous white flowers. Individual flowers are generally around one inch in diameter with five narrow petals. Summer fruit are berry-like, purplish-blue and can be consumed by humans and birds. Autumn color can be beautiful and can vary from yellow to orange or rusty-red. The bark is a pleasing gray color.

Landscape Uses: Use Downy Serviceberry as a flowering or specimen tree. It prefers well-drained, acid soils with enough moisture, although it appears alright in many different sites, except wet soils. Plant it in full sun to light shade.

Size: 15 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide

Zones: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Moist soils in hardwood forests; typically found near streams.

Native To: Nebraska and Minnesota, east to Maine, south to Florida and west to Texas.

Comments: The fruit ripens in June and is consumed by birds.

American Hornbeam, Ironwood or Musclewood / Carpinus caroliniana

American Hornbeam TreeFamily: Birch/Betulaceae

Characteristics: American Hornbeam is a deciduous tree with medium texture and a slow to medium growth rate. It is generally single-stemmed with a spreading to rounded form. It could occur as a multi-stemmed, bushy tree. A strange feature is the smooth, hard branches and trunk, which acquire a muscle-like rippled (Ironwood) appearance with age.

American Hornbeam LeafLandscape Uses: Use this tree as a specimen or street tree. It should be used much more in residential landscapes. An understory tree, often developing in wet areas, it appears to tolerate both excess moisture and moderate drought. It develops a rather nice shape without a lot of pruning. Fall color is variable and varies from yellow to orange or red.

Size: 35 to 40 feet tall with a spread of 20 to 25 feet

Zones: 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: American Hornbeam grows in flood plains and along waterways all through the southeast.

Native To: Minnesota to Maine, south to Florida and west to Texas.

Comments: Seeds are consumed by birds.

Eastern Redbud / Cercis canadensis

Eastern Redbud TreeFamily: Legume/Fabaceae (syn. Leguminosae)

Characteristics: Eastern Redbud is a deciduous, flowering tree with a medium growth rate and coarse texture. Its form is an oval or rounded shape. Grown primarily for the pink to rose-colored, pea-like blooms in early spring (March and April), Eastern Redbud is showy. The color conveys a warm feeling in the cool early spring months.

Landscape Uses: Use Eastern Redbud as a flowering or specimen tree. It grows mostly in moist soils as an understory tree, but it can handle most landscape conditions and urban locations. Plant or transplant young trees or container-grown plants because bigger trees are difficult to transplant. Moderately acid pH is preferred.

Size: 20 to 25 feet tall with a spread of 15 to 20 feet

Zones: 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b (shorter-lived in 8a, 8b)

Habitat: Moist soils of valleys and slopes in hardwood forests.

Native To: Massachusetts to northern Florida, west to Texas, north to Nebraska, Iowa, southern Wisconsin and Minnesota

Comments: Eastern Redbud is growing to be more popular in the nursery trade in the Deep South of the U.S. Many cultivars are available with variations in flower color from white to deep rose. It re-seeds readily in cultivated areas.

Fringetree or Grancy-Greybeard / Chionanthus virginicus

FringetreeFamily: Olive/Oleaceae

Characteristics: Fringetree is a deciduous, flowering tree with medium texture and a rather slow growth rate. It features a round shape, and it is grown commonly for its showy flowers in May to June. They give the tree a fleecy look. Fruits are dark blue, ½ inch in diameter, and look like small, black olives. Fruit appears on female trees only.

Fringetree LeafLandscape Uses: Use Fringetree as a flowering specimen tree. It easily adapts to most locations, including moderately dry areas. It is vigorous in its youth, then grows slower as it ages. It does better with good cultural practices, including fertilization, watering and mulching.

Size: 15 to 25 feet tall and wide

Zones: 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Moist soils of valleys and bluffs, and in hardwood forests.

Native To: New York and Massachusetts, south to Florida, west to Texas and Oklahoma.

Comments: This tree is dioecious, having male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers on separate plants.

Flowering Dogwood / Cornus florida

Flowering Dogwood TreeFamily: Dogwood/Cornaceae

Characteristics: Flowering Dogwood, the most common flowering tree in the eastern U.S., is deciduous with medium texture and a medium growth rate. It features white, pink or rose-colored blooms from March to April. In autumn, leaves turn scarlet red, and fruit are red and showy. Bark is dark and mottled. Seedling dogwoods are sometimes planted in woodland landscapes.

Flowering Dogwood LeavesLandscape Uses: Use Dogwood as a flowering understory tree. It likes light shade and enough moisture during dry weather. Never plant it on very wet sites. Be sure to use mulch to keep roots cool in summer and warm in winter. Powdery mildew and leaf spot anthracnose can be issues.

Size: 15 to 20 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide; more spreading in the shade.

Zones: 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Moist soils of valleys and uplands in the understory layer of hardwood forests.

Native To: Maine to Florida, west to Texas, north to Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan.

Comments: Numerous cultivars exist, featuring some with variegated foliage. Dogwood fruit are enjoyed by birds and other wildlife. Deer also enjoy the leaves.

Mayhaw / Crataegus aestivalis

Mayhaw TreeFamily: Rose/Rosaceae

Mayhaw BranchCharacteristics: Mayhaw is a thorny, deciduous, small tree with white flowers borne in a flat cluster in early spring (March). The fruit are round, ½ to one inch in diameter, and ripen to shiny red in May and June. Bark is scaly and mottled.

Landscape Uses: Use Mayhaw in shrub borders and woodland edges.

Size: 15 to 20 feet tall and wide

Zones: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Thin, wet woods; shallow depressions; and other low, moist areas.

Native To: Virginia to Florida, west to Alabama and Mississippi.

Comments: The fruit can be used to make very tasty jelly.

Parsley Hawthorn / Crataegus marshallii

Parsley Hawthorn FlowersFamily: Rose/Rosaceae

Characteristics: Parsley Hawthorn is a deciduous, flowering tree which features medium-fine texture, thorny branches and a gradual growth rate. White flowers with showy purple anthers are borne in clusters in early springtime, mostly in March and April. Fruits are ½ inch in diameter, red and oval. Leaves are unique in that they look like the foliage of parsley. Bark is scaly and mottled.

Landscape Uses: Parsley Hawthorn is an understory tree which prefers moist soils in light shade or full sun. Use it as a specimen tree.

Size: 15 to 20 feet tall and wide

Zones: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Moist areas, valleys and swampy forests.

Native To: Virginia to Florida, west to Texas.

Comments: All hawthorns provide fruit for birds in the fall and are preferred nesting trees in the springtime. Lacebugs can be an issue.

Washington Hawthorn / Crataegus phaenopyrum

Washington Hawthorn TreeFamily: Rose/Rosaceae

Characteristics: Washington Hawthorn is a thorny, deciduous, small tree with a broadly oval to rounded dense shape. The foliage is reddish as it emerges, changing to a dark, lustrous green. The leaves are triangular-ovate, coarsely toothed and deeply lobed. The ½-inch white flowers bloom in clusters after the leaves emerge, with pink anthers on numerous stamens.

Washington Hawthorn BranchLandscape Uses: Washington Hawthorn makes an excellent small specimen tree, screen or hedge near buildings, provided it isn’t used in high-traffic areas because of its thorns. The fall color varies from orange to scarlet to purple. The bright red fruit display is an outstanding feature.

Size: 25 to 30 feet tall to 20 to 25 feet wide

Zones: 7a, 7b, 8a

Habitat: Riverbanks and low, moist woods from the mountains to the upper Coastal Plain; may not be as vigorous in the southern part of its range.

Native To: Pennsylvania to Florida and westward to Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri.

Comments: There are cultivars available. All hawthorns are wonderful assets to wildlife by supplying fruit and nesting sites.

Carolina Buckthorn / Frangula caroliniana

Carolina BuckthornCarolina Buckthorn BranchFamily: Buckthorn/Rhamnceae

Characteristics: Carolina Buckthorn is a small, deciduous tree. Foliage is simple, alternate, elliptic to oblong, four to six inches long, with parallel veins moving upward from a prominent midrib. The small, white flowers appear after the leaves in clusters at the leaf axils. Fruits are berry-like drupes, changing in color from red to black.

Landscape Uses: Carolina Buckthorn is a beautiful tree with slender branches and an open crown. It is quite abundant in fruit and is an exceptional specimen understory tree. On the other hand, it may have a tendency to reseed itself and become weedy. It enjoys partial shade.

Size: 30 to 40 feet tall with a spread about half its height

Zones: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Fertile soils of deciduous forests. It is frequently associated with limestone soils, like shell middens and calcareous bluffs.

Native To: Virginia to Florida, west to Texas, north to Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois.

Loblolly Bay / Gordonia lasianthus

Lobolly Bay LeafFamily: Tea/Theaceae

Characteristics: Loblolly Bay is an evergreen tree with medium texture and a medium growth rate, featuring a narrow, pyramidal to oval shape. Leaves are smooth, dark green in color and have blunt appressed teeth. Summer flowers are white, 2½ inches in diameter and feature a fragrance. Fruit are woody capsules.

Landscape Uses: Use Loblolly Bay as a screening or specimen flowering tree. It likes moist, fertile, well-drained soil, and sun to light shade.

Size: 30 to 40 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide

Zones: 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Bays, low hammocks, acidic, peaty soils in and around pocosins. Also, it is found on sand hills in association with various hardwoods and conifers.

Native To: The Coastal Plain from North Carolina to Florida, west to Mississippi.

Comments: Loblolly Bay is commonly used in the landscape in groupings of three to five plants.

Two-Winged Silverbell / Halesia diptera

Two-Winged Silverbell TreeFamily: Storax/Styracaceae

Characteristics: Two-Winged Silverbell is frequently mixed up with Carolina Silverbell (H. tetraptera). However, it is smaller and develops fewer flowers than Carolina Silverbell. Its white flower petals are united at the base. Carolina Silverbell, in contrast, has flower petals which are united for more than half their length. Bark is gray-brown and lacks white streaks common on Carolina Silverbell. Fruit are a greenish color. Fall color is pleasant yellow.

Landscape Uses: Use Two-Winged Silverbell as a specimen understory trees in wet to moist locations.

Size: 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide

Zone: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Swampy areas near areas with water.

Native To: The Coastal Plain, South Carolina to Florida, particularly the southwestern Coastal Plain of Georgia and along the Gulf Coast into Texas.

Comments: A variety called magniflora has bigger flowers than Two-Winged Silverbell (H. diptera).

Carolina Silverbell / Halesia tetraptera

Carolina SilverbellFamily: Storax/Styracaceae

Carolina Silverbell BranchCharacteristics: Carolina Silverbell is a deciduous tree featuring medium-coarse texture and a medium growth rate. It has an upright-oval to broad-rounded form. Subtly, but not extremely showy, its best ornamental features are the clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers borne from April to early May. Bark is shallowly ridged with white streaks. Fruit are four-winged capsules approximately 1½ inches long. Autumn color is yellow to yellow-green.

Landscape Uses: Use Carolina Silverbell as a flowering or specimen tree. It enjoys rich, moist, well-drained, acidic soil and sun to partial shade. Although it naturally occurs as an understory tree, it has shown good drought tolerance in full sun. It seems to transplant well.

Size: 30 to 40 feet tall with a spread of 20 to 35 feet

Zones: 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a

Habitat: Wooded hillsides and along streambanks. It is often discovered along waterways in the upper Coastal Plain.

Native To: New York to Georgia and Alabama, north to Michigan, southwest from Illinois to Texas.

Possumhaw / Ilex decidua

Possumhaw TreeFamily: Holly/Aquifoliaceae

Characteristics: Possumhaw is a deciduous tree with medium-fine texture and a medium to slow growth rate. Its form is round at full maturity. Possumhaw is planted mostly for its shiny red fall berries, which are consumed by wildlife. The leaves turn a bright yellow in the autumn months. It is similar in fruiting habit to Yaupon Holly (I. vomitoria), except it is deciduous, which makes the fruit more noticeable.

Landscape Uses: Use Possumhaw as a specimen tree in the shrub border or at the woodland edge. It enjoys moist soils in full sun to partial shade. It transplants easily and has fair drought tolerance. It tends to be multi-stemmed but can be easily pruned into a tree shape.

Size: 12 to 15 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide

Zones: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Moist soils in low woods and lower slopes in woods and thickets from the lower Piedmont to the southern Coastal Plain.

Native To: Maryland and Virginia, south to Florida, west to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas.

Comments: All hollies are dioecious, featuring both male and female flowers on separate plants. Possumhaw is a great wildlife plant. There are several cultivars in the nursery trade.

Yaupon Holly / Ilex vomitoria

Yaupon Holly TreeFamily: Holly/Aquifoliaceae

Characteristics: Yaupon Holly is a broadleaf evergreen tree with medium-fine texture and a quick growth rate. It has a graceful, eye-catching, irregular form; often rounded, other times pyramidal. It tends to be multi-stemmed, but it could also be pruned into a tree form. The bark is a smooth gray color. Shiny red fruit offer a brilliant display in fall until they are eaten up by birds. Fruit only occurs on female plants.

Yaupon Holly BranchLandscape Uses: Make use of Yaupon Holly as a specimen tree or hedge for screening. Iit's often used in landscapes due to its adaptability to a wide number of locations, including sun or shade, wet and dry sites, and both acidic and alkaline soils. It is susceptible to ice and storm damage.

Size: 12 to 20 feet tall and 8 to 12 feet wide

Zones: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b

Habitat: Moist soils, especially beaches, maritime forests and sandhills of the Coastal Plain.

Native To: Virginia to central Florida, west to Texas and Oklahoma.

Comments: Cultivars are available, including weeping and dwarf forms.

Big-Leaf Magnolia / Magnolia macrophylla

Big-Leaf Magnolia TreeFamily: Magnolia/Magnoliaceae

Characteristics: Big-Leaf Magnolia is a deciduous, flowering tree having coarse texture, a round-headed form, and a medium growth rate. Large leaves are 20 to 30 inches long and eight to12 inches wide. Big, white, fragrant flowers are borne from May to June and have six petals eight to 12 inches across. Its egg-shaped, cone-like fruit and red seeds are common types of Magnolias.

Landscape Uses: Use Big-Leaf Magnolia as a specimen tree. Since it has extremely large leaves, it becomes a focal point wherever it is grown. It is a temperamental tree, often difficult to establish, requiring rich, moist soils and partial shade. Avoid planting it in exposed locations because the large leaves are easily torn by wind. Leaf litter may be an issue.

Big Leaf Magnolia FlowerSize: 35 to 40 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide

Zones: 7a, 7b, 8a

Habitat: Moist soils of valleys and ravines. It is sometimes found in the Piedmont, especially in the Chattahoochee drainage area and in hilly areas of the western Coastal Plain. Often found as an understory tree.

Native To: Ohio to Florida, west to Arkansas and Louisiana.

Comments: This is most notably a tree for a plant collector.

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