There’s no better way to show winter the door than with spring-flowering trees, and especially with trees that are native to Connecticut. These trees are uniquely attuned to seasonal changes; their spring flowers announce the start of our growing season and bring a welcome pop of color after a long winter.
Some of the best native trees for your Connecticut yard have showy spring flowers and characteristics that also make them valuable landscape additions in other seasons.
Using Native Trees in Your CT Landscape
Native trees are adapted to local climate and soil conditions, making them easier to grow when planted within their native range. They also have an important connection with native pollinators and wildlife, ensuring both the viability of seeds and a reliable source of nectar for insects and food for native wildlife.
Although cultivars of native trees are no longer considered “native,” some are worth considering. Cultivars are often more readily available in local nurseries and garden centers. And because they’ve been bred to highlight specific, desirable features (such as leaf and flower color, size and shape, or resistance to pests and diseases), some cultivars may be more appropriate for your landscape than the native tree itself.
If you’re more interested in native trees with fall color, see our top 5 recommended trees for fall foliage!
Our Top Recommendations
Here are six of our favorite spring-blooming trees that are native to Connecticut. While we encourage you to plant native trees, we’ve also listed a few cultivars that are particularly appealing.
EASTERN REDBUD (Cercis canadensis)
Eastern Redbud is a small-scale, understory tree that is also a perfect specimen size for small gardens. You’ll want to place it where you can admire its spring flowers!
Key characteristics include:
- Often a multi-stem tree, redbud has naturally spreading branches whose spread may match its height
- Platy, gray bark flakes off to reveal reddish inner bark
- Walnut toxicity tolerant (unlike many other plants, it can be grown near a walnut tree)
- Smooth, heart-shaped leaves are dark green and turn yellow in fall
- Deciduous, the redbud’s branches burst forth in spring (usually, that’s in April) with countless clusters of pink-purple, pea-like flowers that emerge directly from the trunk or branches
The deep nectary in each flower requires specific pollinators who can reach all the way in. The Eastern carpenter bee is a perfect match and underscores how native flowering plants and insects have evolved together for mutual benefit.
As eastern redbuds are woodland or understory trees, they need regular water and fertilization, as well as protection from extreme heat and dryness. In hot areas, plant in part shade and always mulch around the trees’ base to help keep its roots cool. Maintain regular irrigation during heat waves.
Regular pruning will keep your tree’s crown healthy and balanced, and ensuring well-drained soil will help protect your tree from verticillium wilt.
It’s a good idea to plant your eastern redbud when it’s young. Older, more established trees can have difficulty establishing themselves after transplanting.
Cultivars of eastern redbud include:
- ‘Forest Pansy,’ a red-purple leaved variety with darker gold fall color
- ‘Lavender Twist,’ a dwarf variety with a weeping shape
- Cercis canadensis var. alba, a white flowering variety
HAWTHORN (Crataegus viridis)
Hawthorn or Green Hawthorn is a small (to 35’) tree native to the southeastern United States.
Prized characteristics include:
- Clusters of fragrant, white spring flowers
- Persistent red fruit that is appreciated by birds
- Bright fall color that ranges from red to purple
- Tolerance of urban conditions
Hawthorn is a tough tree with few pests or problems. As with other rose-family species, powdery mildew and rust may occur, along with apple scab. These are treatable and do not have to become serious problems.
The most serious problems for hawthorns are:
- Cedar hawthorn rust, occurring if eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is nearby
- Fireblight, a common problem for rose-family plants
These potentially serious pathogens can be controlled with good maintenance practices and fungicide treatments (and not planting hawthorn near any eastern red cedar).
Crataegus ‘Winter King’ is the hawthorn cultivar most widely used in landscapes because of its enhanced characteristics, including:
- Disease resistance
- Larger, more ornamental fruit
- Heavier spring blooming
- More vivid fall color
SERVICEBERRY (Amelanchier canadensis)
Serviceberry, also called Shadblow Serviceberry or Shadbush, is a shrubby tree native to the eastern United States, from Maine southward. A compact tree, it grows to 15’-20’ with upright branches.
Its explosion of white flowers is a reliable sign of spring, as it’s often the earliest blooming tree in forests and woodlands.
The tree most likely earned its common names because its annual blooming coincided with thawing ground for burial services and the spawning runs of shad, a once-prominent northeastern food fish species. Its numerous common names also attest to the tree’s importance and its extensive distribution.
Typical characteristics of Serviceberry include:
- Native to wet areas so it likes moist soil
- Growth by suckers and stolons can form thickets, though the tree is also grown as a single specimen
- Tolerance of walnut toxicity
- Edible fruit that is usually eaten by birds and squirrels as soon as it ripens
Planting your serviceberry with an evergreen backdrop sets off its white spring flowers to advantage, and also accents its bright fall colors of yellow, orange, and red.
Serviceberry has few pests or problems, usually only those common to rose family plants such as powdery mildew or rust. These can be easily treated and controlled.
- ‘Prince William,’ a smaller (to 10’) upright variety
- ‘Rainbow Pillar,’ a narrow (to 6’) variety with pronounced fall colors
TUPELO OR SOUR GUM (Nyssa sylvatica)
Tupelo is the common name for Nyssa sylvatica, although it’s also called black tupelo, black gum, sourgum, or pepperidge. This native tree is striking for several reasons, including:
- A strong central leader
- Horizontal branching
- Glossy dark green leaves
- Brilliant orange fall color
- Dark, platy, “alligator” bark
- Tolerance to walnut toxicity
The tupelo is native to forests, stream banks, and wet areas but can endure periodic drought and clay soil, making it a hardy tree for urban and landscape use.
Its spring bloom is not showy—small, greenish-white flowers that appear after leaves emerge—but these flowers are important nectar sources for pollinating bees. Tupelo Honey is not just a song title, it’s a product prized for its taste and color!
Nyssa fruits produced after flowering are edible, with a sour flavor that is reflected in its common name of sourwood. These dark blue fruits are striking against the tree’s orange fall color, and are an important food source for migratory birds heading south in fall.
Tupelo grows to 35’-50’, with a spread of 20’-30’. It forms a strong taproot that makes transplanting difficult. You should plant your tree in spring while it’s small so that it can establish a root system in place. At maturity, tupelo is a useful shade tree and garden specimen tree.
Give your tupelo full sun to part shade, and keep its soil moist. Mulch will help moderate soil temperature, so keep a layer replenished around the tree’s base.
There are no serious pests or problems with tupelo, with leaf spot or rust occasionally appearing.
Acidic soil should be maintained, as tupelo does not tolerate alkaline soil. Alkalinity leads to slow or stunted growth and leaf chlorosis, and your tree will struggle.
SWEETBAY MAGNOLIA (Magnolia virginiana)
Sweetbay magnolia, also called swamp magnolia, is a tree native to the eastern and southeastern United States.
- Moist or wet areas such as swamps and riverbanks are the native areas for sweetbay
- Evergreen in its southern range, the sweetbay magnolia becomes deciduous in its colder, northern range (including here in Connecticut)
- Southern specimens form upright, spreading trees to 60’ or more high and 15’-20’ wide while northern sweetbay has a smaller, shrubby form from 10’-30’ high.
- Its narrow spread makes it useful in small spaces or as an informal hedge
- It’s hardy to zone 5 so choose a spot for your magnolia that is protected from damaging wind and excessive heat.
The magnolia’s preference for moist or wet soil makes it a good candidate for flood-prone areas, though it may struggle in confined urban planting areas with alkaline soil and extended periods of dryness. Sweetbay is not tolerant of winter road salt.
Magnolia leaves are simple, deep green, and have lighter undersides that flash nicely in the wind. Flowers are white, fragrant, and showy. Their 2” cup-shaped blooms are held above their branches in late spring or early summer (typically, we see them bloom in June).
After blooming, upright seed pods are produced. When ripe, the pods split open to reveal bright red seeds that attract birds and wildlife.
Sweetbay has few pest or disease problems, with leaf spot being the most common. Leaf chlorosis occurs in alkaline soil (soils in Connecticut are typically more acidic so this isn’t usually a concern).
‘Henry Hicks,’ ‘Milton,’ and ‘Ravenswood’ are cultivars of sweetbay bred to be hardy and partially evergreen in the coldest parts of its growing range.
TULIP TREE (Liriodendron tulipifera)
The Tulip Tree (also called tulip poplar or yellow poplar) is another member of the magnolia family.
It is among the largest of our native trees, growing to 70’-90’ with a spread to 50’. In ideal settings, it may grow to 100’. Its columnar form and large trunk produce lumber used for woodworking and furniture, as well as boatbuilding.
Key characteristics of tulip trees include:
- The tulip tree is most easily recognized by its unique leaf shape, bright green and four-lobed, with a stubby, inverted “V” at its tip
- Cup-shaped flowers are yellow, orange, and green, held above leaves at branch tips
- Flowers appear in late spring after leaves have emerged, and are followed by magnolia-like upright seed pods
- Bees rely on nectar from these flowers for food
- The tulip tree is an excellent specimen tree, where its striking upright form can be viewed.
- In fall, its leaves turn golden yellow, another striking feature
- It is tolerant of walnut toxicity
- Not tolerant of salt spray or road salt
Because the tulip tree is tolerant of a range of urban conditions, you can use it as a specimen in your garden, along parkways, or as part of a native or naturalistic landscape design. You will want to provide some protection from winter winds, snow, and ice to prevent branch damage and branch drop.
Its tendency to drop branches makes the tulip tree less well-suited for areas where branch drop might become a public safety issue. If regularly pruned and inspected for weakened wood, a tulip tree makes a good shade or parkway tree.
NOTE: Tulip tree has a shallow, spreading root system. If you plant one, resist the desire to add large understory plants around its base or disturb the soil after your tree has established itself.
You’ll have few issues with your tulip tree, with aphids and scale the most likely pests. These can be easily controlled with pruning and sprays.
PLANT SOME TREES THIS SPRING!
We hope that this list of Connecticut native trees that burst into spring blooms has inspired you to add some of these trees to your property.
If you have any questions about tree planting or tree care, contact us for an appointment with one of our arborists. Not only can we recommend and source the best trees for your property, we can also plant them for you!
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