Native white-flowering trees for spring
Your yard will be alight with white when you plant these native trees to brighten spring.
It’s spring in southern New England! Still, with deciduous trees still bare and most of the understory just waking up, the landscape remains largely brown and gray.Skip to next paragraph
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But in a few short weeks, wherever there are trees, there’ll be shade. White flowers show up beautifully against both backgrounds, which may explain why so many of our native trees and shrubs have them.
We all know and love the flowering dogwood that’s so emblematic of our eastern woodlands, but in this post I’d like to sing the praises of two lesser known trees.
Both have white flowers that can make equally admirable additions to the landscape. In a future post, I’ll talk about two native shrubs with similar qualities.
Reliable harbingers of spring
There are two harbingers of spring I look and listen for every year: the peepers singing and the shads in bloom. Here in Connecticut, I can reliably enjoy both in mid-April.
The shads (also called shadbush, shadblow, juneberry, or serviceberry) are a rather taxonomically confused group of trees and shrubs, but don’t let that put you off. All shads are members of the genus Amelanchier.
A. arborea is the largest, a tree that can rival a star magnolia in size and shape if given enough sun and good soil.
There are also hybrid crosses between these species, as well as shrubs forms native to both the East and West Coasts (A. stolonifera and A. lamarckii, respectively).
The tree forms are grown more as ornamental landscape plants, while the shrub forms are grown either for fruit or for naturalizing, since they tend to sucker. All of them have delicate flowers -- borne when the plants are still leafless -- that look like a bunch of short white streamers flying in the wind.
In early summer they produce fruits the size and color of wild blueberries. These come and go in the blink of an eye because they are a favorite bird food, so bird lovers take note.
They are said to make great people food, too, but I’ve never cultivated them for their fruit, and I suspect that humans who try might need to fence them to keep the birds from making off with everything.
To top things off, shads also offer good fall foliage, with yellows and oranges predominating.
In practice, shads for sale in nurseries aren’t always labeled with tremendous accuracy, so don’t rely too heavily on that. You just want to make sure you’ve bought a tree form if you want a tree, and a shrub form if you want a shrub.