By Pat Malcolm
Shade trees do not all necessarily shed their leaves in the fall (deciduous), but some shade trees are evergreen, and others can be classified as flowering trees. The fact that shade trees can cool temperatures in the surrounding landscape and cool off houses during the heat of the summer is well known. Some evergreen trees also provide shade all year, a factor that may be undesirable in some cases during hard winter freezes, when an evergreen shade tree may block off the heat rays from the sun that might melt snow and ice from a house roof or prevent infra-red light from warming rooms inside the house. Extreme southern states home owners in the United States may prefer shade on homes and buildings year round, and such evergreen shade trees as Live Oak tree, Quercus virginiana; Laurel Oak tree, Quercus laurifolia; and Darlington Oak trees,Quercus hemisphaerica, would be desirable for planting near houses.
Pine trees are also valuable shade trees for houses and landscape gardens. Such perennial shrubs as Camellia japonica and azalea shrubs must have year round shade for proper flowering. The camellia shrub and the azalea plant will survive only on rare occasions if planted in the full sun. The dogwood and redbud trees benefit from pine tree shade where they flower abundantly. The cherry laurel tree, Laurocerasus caroliniana Ait, is an evergreen shade tree that is covered with fragrant white flower clusters in March. The cherry laurel tree is a fast growing tree, sometimes growing 6 feet per year. Eucalyptus trees, Eucalyptus cinerea, are evergreen shade trees, but the ‘Silver Dollar’ eucalyptus tree usually is limited to planting in the warm temperatures of zones 8-11. The exceptional menthol fragrance of all parts of the eucalyptus tree makes it especially desirable where smog and other air pollution is problematic. The loblolly bay tree, Gordonia lasianthus, is often called the loblolly bay magnolia tree, and the flower fragrance, white color, and form look like a miniature flower bloom of the magnolia.
The southern magnolia tree, Magnolia grandiflora, is an outstanding shade tree known for the gigantic 1 foot wide fragrant white flowers during the summer and the glowing green waxy magnolia leaves that provide dense shade. Because of the dense shade and the mats of succulent roots that rise to the ground surface (like cypress tree roots), few shrubs or perennials can be successfully planted and grown underneath the Magnolia grandiflora trees. Other shade trees that could also qualify as beautiful flowering trees are black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, shade trees that are covered with fragrant white flower clustersjust following the appearance of the fern-like, light green leaves. The black locust trees leaf color changes to bright yellow in the fall, and the wood has been used as waterproofed split-rail fencing for centuries. The empress shade tree, Paulownia tomentosa, (Blue Dragon Tree, also Princess Tree) is also a flowering tree that produces gigantic blue-purple flower clusters triangular in shape. The empress tree is known as an extremely fast growing shade tree that has been promoted by former President Jimmy Carter. The wood is valued as very strong and light weight; desirable in the Far East for furniture manufacture and wood carving.
The golden raintree, Koelreuteria paniculata, is an important shade tree, that in late spring is covered with large clusters of yellow-gold drooping flowers that turn into attractive pink seed pods in the fall. The oriental look of the golden raintree makes it choice to grow as a specimen tree in garden landscapes. The red Florida buckeye, Aesculus pavia, shade tree grows fast into small shade trees that flower brilliantly red in late spring followed by the good luck buckeye seed. The thornless honeylocust, Gleditsia tricanthus inermis, shade tree has become one of America’s top choice flowering trees that also functions as a fern-like leafy cover to mildly shade garden areas. The thornless honeylocust tree flowers in various colored blooms, fragrant white, pink, or lavender, depending on the cultivar. The brilliant yellow-gold color of the fall leaf change will stun your neighbors. The tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, shade tree is famous because of the flowers, as well as for the shade benefit. The tulip poplar flower is yellow-orange, and shaped like a tulip or a small teacup. The leaves of the tulip poplar tree turn brilliant yellow in the fall, an important tree for fall color. The beech tree, Fagus grandiflora, is a great shade tree that produces nuts that wildlife stores up for winter meals. This very large growing shade tree has a leaf color change in the fall, but after the first freeze, the beech leaves turn tan-brown and remain on the tree like an evergreen tree until the new beech leaves appear in the spring. The beech tree leaf behavior is very bizarre.
Maple trees and Oak trees offer many species for shade and leaf change color in the fall. The maple leaf color can change to yellow, orange, and red. The Oak tree leaf color can vary from red, to orange, to yellow-gold, to brown. The Florida maple, Acer barbatum, shade tree turns a brilliant yellow color in the fall and then turns brown and remains on the tree most of the winter. Other important shade trees are the American elm tree, Ulmus americana, and the drake elm, Ulmus parvifolia ‘Drake,’ both coloring yellow-gold in the fall. The winged elm tree has strange scaly winged growths on stems and branches that are in demand by florists for their ornamental value in making dried arrangements.
The Chinese elm tree, Ulmus parvifolia, is known for its fast growth to provide quick shade. The Chinese elm is one of the easiest shade trees to transplant and can grow over 6 feet in one year if cared for properly. The American Hophornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, is an under-planted shade tree that, during the fall leaf change, glows brightly in yellow-gold colors. The bald cypress tree, Taxodium distichum, is an excellent clean shade tree widely adapted to grow well on a variety of soil types. The bald cypress leaves do turn yellow briefly in the fall, but the bald cypress small leaf size requires no raking. The pond cypress shade tree, Taxodium ascendens, is a great tree to grow around pond-houses and wetland gardens, but should not normally be grown in well drained locations. The pond cypress roots rise from the water, swollen and large and are called cypress knees.
The black gum shade tree, Nyssa sylvatica, grows well in wetlands and the shade is beneficial to many aquatic plants. The water tupelo (tupelo gum, also sour gum) shade tree grows aquatically in many lowland wet sites. The leaves of the black gum and the water tupelo shade trees turn yellow-gold and orange in the fall. The Chinese parasol tree, Firmiana simplex, forms an umbrella (parasol) canopy with large bat-shaped leaves that turn brilliant yellow, then orange, in the fall.
The catalpa tree (fishbait tree), Catalpa bignonioides, has been used for centuries as a shade tree that attracts worms (fishbait) to be used in fishing. The Chinese tallow tree, Sapium sebiferum, is a fast growing small shade tree that produces a kaleidescope of colors on leaves in the fall of yellow, red, orange, blue, and purple. The Chinese tallow tree produces seedpods in the fall that look like popcorn after the leaves fall off, thus it is called the popcorn tree. The corkscrew willow, Salix matsudana “Tortuosa,” and the weeping willow, Salix babylonica, grow fast into shade trees with distinctive linear leaves that turn yellow in the fall. The Ginkgo shade tree, Ginkgo biloba, is one of the most famous of the shade and its brilliant yellow-gold leaves that remain on the tree for a week or more when they fall to form a bright yellow circle underneath the barren limbs. The ginkgo leaves have been found fossilized in the Oriental archaeological excavations. The green ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica lanceolata, is a fast growing shade tree useful as a landscape specimen. The lombardy poplar tree, Populus nigra, is a fast growing tree, upright in form that is planted as hedges and windbreaks in the Western United States.
The river birch tree, Betula nigra, is a beautiful landscape tree with unique flaking bark that is replaced by slick bark in the spring. The river birch can be planted as a single trunk specimen or as a clump. The sassafras shade tree, Sassafras albidum, grows fragrant parts including the flower, bark, and the roots that were used during the civil war to make sassafras tea that produced a narcotic effect on wounded southerners. The Sourwood tree, Oxydendrum arboreum, and the sweetgum shade trees, Liquidambar styraciflua, both produce spectacular leaf color in the fall, both the sourwood and the sweetgum trees turn yellow, orange, and red in progressing stages. The sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, is perhaps one of the best trees for fast shade. Sycamore trees can grow to 2 feet in diameter & 50 feet tall in 20 years.
Bamboo trees and bamboo plants have been used as shade trees, privacy hedges, and borders. Bamboo plants grow rapidly and 40-50 feet (Timber Bamboo) and are useful as windbreaks as well as shade screens for privacy that cover 180 degree focused light rays. Annual flower beds are often planted in front of bamboo tree screens for partial shade, and many shrubs and bushes grow well when placed in front of bamboo tree screens, if the bamboo plants are the clumping type.
Shade trees have been used through the ages to shade landscapes, homes, buildings, or as shelter and food for wildlife. Some shade trees offer extra benefits such as beautiful flowers or evergreen foliage. Other shade trees can bear fruit, such as mulberry trees, apple trees, pear trees, and the evergreen loquat tree. Still other shade trees bear valuable tasty nuts, such as pecan trees, walnut trees, and chestnut trees. Other than the shade benefit, bright leaf color of the fall cooling off period, makes the planting and growing of shade trees a pleasurable and worthwhile effort.
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