Native Alternatives for Ash, Siberian Elm and Other Shade Trees

For alternatives to these exotic or problem shade trees:
                       Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila)
                       Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
                       Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
                As well as:
                      
Ash (Fraxinus spp.) – for the emerald ash borer threat
                            
We recommend the following site for control of Siberian elm and other exotic or problem trees:
                       Illinois Weed Management Guides  (Click on Siberian elm and other trees.)


Acer rubrum
Red maple

This medium-sized tree (40-60’ tall) grows fast and autumn color is dependable. Emerging new growth (leaves, leafstalks, twigs, flowers, fruit) is red or tinged with red. Good as it is, do not plant it close to the house. In sunny areas, wrap the trunk in winter because the bark is thin and very susceptible to sunscald.
Acer saccharum
Sugar maple

This is an excellent specimen tree for the lawn or parks growing 40' to 80' tall. May be used as a street tree as long as it can be located on a street and in a location where road salt, soil compaction and pollution will not be significant problems. Spectacular fall color.
Acer saccharum subsp. nigrum
Black maple

Black maple is very similar in appearance to sugar maple but with superior heat and drought tolerance. Fall color is beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red. It is a large, deciduous tree that typically grows 60-75' tall. Its sap may be tapped for syrup that is equal in quality to that obtained from sugar maple.
Betula nigra
River birch

This Missouri native is vigorous, fast-growing, and can be trained as either a single trunk or multi-trunked tree. Salmon-pink to reddish brown bark exfoliates to reveal lighter inner bark. Excellent for wet areas in the landscape but will tolerate dry areas.
  Carya laciniosa
Shellbark hickory

A tall ornamental shade tree (60-80’) for large properties. It has shaggy bark and leaves that turn yellow to golden brown in fall. Edible egg-shaped nuts are attractive to a variety of wildlife and are the largest in size of the hickories.
  Carya ovata
Shagbark hickory

This hickory typically grows 70-90’ and has shaggy bark, as the common name implies,  The leaves turn yellow to golden brown in fall. Each nut is encased in a moderately thick husk which splits open when ripe in fall. Nuts are attractive to a variety of wildlife.
  Celtis laevigata
Sugarberry

Sugarberry, commonly called sugar hackberry or southern hackberry, is basically a southern version of common or northern hackberry (C. occidentalis) with less warty bark and juicier fruit. It is a medium to large sized deciduous tree that typically grows 60-80’. Fleshy parts of the fruit are edible and sweet and attractive to a variety of wildlife.
Celtis occidentalis
Hackberry

This is a tough shade tree that grows in a wide range of soils. It typically grows 40-60'. It has good natural form and interesting warty bark. Fruits are attractive to a variety of wildlife. Birds consume the fruits and disperse the seeds. Fleshy parts of the fruit are edible and somewhat sweet.
Cladrastis kentukea
Yellowwood

Excellent, low-maintenance, small shade tree (30-50' tall) for residential lawns, particularly on smaller properties.  The roots go deep, so other plants may be grown underneath. It features intensely fragrant, wisteria-like, white flowers in clusters 10-15" long that virtually cover a mature tree in late spring. Good yellow fall color.
Diospyros virginiana
Persimmon

Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Somewhat wide range of soil tolerance, but prefers moist, sandy soils. Drought tolerant. Promptly remove root suckers unless naturalized effect is desired. Female trees need a male pollinator in order to set fruit.

Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis 'Skycole' SKYLINE
Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis
Thornless honey locust

Forma inermis is a thornless variety of G. triacanthos that occurs naturally in the wild. It grows to the same height as the thorny species (60-80’). Cultivars of G. triacanthos which are sold in commerce today are all from f. inermis (no thorns and in many cases no seedpods, which makes them preferred landscape plants). Pinnate to bipinnate dark green leaves with small leaflets cast a sun-dappled shade. Leaves turn an attractive yellow in fall.

Gymnocladus dioica
Kentucky coffee tree

Kentucky coffee tree is capable of interesting growth angles yet still maintaining strength and structure. It grows 60-80’. The bark is dark and deeply ridged. The leaves are large and compound attached to thick branches. Recommended for areas needing summer shade yet winter warmth from the sun. Trees are either male or female.

Liriodendron tulipifera
Tulip tree

This fast-growing, straight-arrow tree has beautiful flowers in spring. Tulip-shaped leaves inspire its common name, tulip tree. Though a fast-growing tree, it has some annoying pests. Although few pests impact the wood, tuliptree scale suck sap from twigs and leaves then deposit their ample, sticky discharge on cars and lawn furniture.
Nyssa sylvatica
Black gum

This is a handsome tree with a rounded crown (more pyramidal when young) that typically grows 30-50' tall. Although the flowers are not showy, they are an excellent nectar source for bees while the fruits, which are technically edible but quite sour, are attractive to birds and wildlife. Good tree for wet, periodically flooded conditions. It is slow growing and has spectacular fall color. It is NOT related to sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua).
Ostrya virginiana
Eastern hop hornbeam

This Missouri native typically grows 25-40' tall with a slightly smaller spread. Female catkins are followed by drooping clusters of sac-like, seed-bearing pods which, as the common name suggests, somewhat resemble the fruit of hops. Also commonly called ironwood because of its extremely hard and dense wood.
Quercus alba
White oak

This large impressive tree (50-80' tall) has a wide-spreading, rounded crown. Leaves emerge pinkish in spring, but mature to dark green. Variable fall color ranges from uninteresting browns to quality shades of dark red. Widely used in landscapes, but slow growth rate and large size has somewhat tempered its popularity.
Quercus bicolor
Swamp white oak

This Missouri native oak is a medium sized tree (50-60') with a broad, rounded crown. The leaves are dark, shiny green above and silvery white beneath. Fall color is yellow, but sometimes reddish purple. It adapts well to wet conditions, but also has surprisingly good drought resistance.
Quercus coccinea
Scarlet oak

Scarlet oak is a stately shade tree that eventually matures to 70' feet tall. Foliage is a glossy green in summer turning scarlet in the fall. Native to southeastern Missouri.
Quercus imbricaria
Shingle oak

This is a medium sized oak of the red oak group that typically grows in a conical form to 40-60’ tall. Fruits are rounded acorns that do not ripen until fall of the second year, as is the case with most oaks in the red oak group. Acorns are an important source of food for wildlife. Fall color is variable, sometimes producing attractive shades of yellow-brown to red-brown. Old leaves tend to persist on the tree throughout most of the winter. Wood was once used by early settlers in the midwest for shingles, hence the common name.
Quercus macrocarpa
Bur oak

Bur oak is one of the most majestic of the native North American oaks. It is a medium to large sized deciduous oak that typically grows 60-80’ tall with a broad-spreading, rounded crown. Bur oaks can live for hundreds of years and become giants; many have legendary or historic status. The acorns are very large, hairy and edible.
Quercus muehlenbergii
Chinkapin oak

Chinkapin oak (or Chinquapin) is a medium sized deciduous oak that typically grows 40-60’ tall with an open globular crown. Leaves somewhat resemble the leaves of the chestnut (Castanea) whose nut is sometimes called a chinquapin, hence the common name of this oak whose acorn is sweet and edible.
Quercus phellos
Willow oak

This is a medium to large tree (40-75’ tall) that is noted for its willow-like leaves and relatively fast growth rate. Leaves turn an undistinguished yellow-brown or dull gold in the fall. Acorns can be an important source of food for wildlife. Tolerates somewhat poor drainage and urban pollution.
Quercus rubra
Red oak

Generally a durable and long-lived tree, the red oak (sometimes called northern red oak) is medium sized with a rounded to broad-spreading, often irregular crown. It typically grows at a moderate-to-fast rate to a height of 50-75'. The leaves are dark  green and lustrous with grayish-white on the underside.
Sassafras albidum
Sassafras

This small to medium-sized tree spreads by root suckers to form large colonies in the wild. Attractive, greenish-yellow flowers appear in clusters at the branch ends in spring. Flowers on female trees (if pollinated) give way to small pendant clusters of bluish-black berries, each in a scarlet cup-like receptacle on a scarlet stalk. Leaves are in three shapes (ovate, mitten-shaped and three-lobed) and are bright green above and white below. Excellent yellow, purple and red fall color.
Taxodium disticum var. disticum
Bald cypress

This long-lived conifer grows 50-70' tall. Although it looks like a needled evergreen in summer, it is deciduous ("bald" as the common name suggests). It can be found growing directly in swampy water, but also grows very well in drier, upland soils. Trunks are flared or fluted at the base. Distinctive, knobby root growths (cypress knees) may also develop around the tree, protruding above the water or soil surface. Soft, feathery, yellowish-green foliage turns an attractive orange to cinnamon-brown in fall.
Tilia americana
American linden

Sometimes called  American basswood, this tree is noted for its fragrant pale yellow flowers in late spring, small nutlets with attached leafy wings and large ovate dark green leaves. It is a medium to large deciduous tree, typically growing to 50-80’ tall with a rounded crown. In June, when a tree is in full bloom, bees often visit in such abundant numbers that humming can be heard many feet from the tree. Honey made from these flowers is a prized gourmet food item. Flowers have also been used to make tea. Winter twigs and buds are red. A syrup may be made from the sweet sap in somewhat the same manner as maple sugar.
Tilia americana var. heterophylla
White basswood

Also commonly called silver-leaved linden or white linden, this is a stately tree that is medium to large, typically growing 50-80’ tall. It features fragrant pale yellowish to creamy white flowers that appear in June and are attractive to bees. Flowers give way to nutlets that are attached to narrow, strap-shaped wings and ripen in late summer. Fall color is an undistinguished pale green to pale yellow. A syrup may be made from the sweet sap in somewhat the same manner as maple sugar.

More Selections

For additional selections including cultivars and non-native shade trees we recommend "Alternatives to Ash" by Jeff Iles, Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University.