North Carolina Trees
Updated: Jun 21
You can probably recognize the logos for your favorite brands with just a quick glance. While most people can easily identify popular apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with no problem at all, the majority of homeowners can’t even identify most of the trees in their own backyards.
Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
The Loblolly Pine is a pine tree native to approximately 15 states in the southeastern U.S. An evergreen tree also known as the “southern yellow pine,” it is the second most common tree in the country, followed by the Red Maple, and is commonly found in lowland and swampy areas. In fact, this is where it gets the name “loblolly” from. In the American South, “loblolly” used to be another name for a mudhole. Thanks to their rapid rate of growth,
These trees are generally planted in forest plantations to be used for pulpwood and lumber.
With the ability to grow up to 115 feet high and five feet around, this tree can be identified by its gray, scaly bark and dark green needles that can grow to be anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in length. It is also called The Bull Pine, thanks to its giant size, and The Rosemary Pine, due to its fragrant resinous foliage.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Perhaps one of the most striking native NC trees, the Red Maple is known for its foliage that turns a vibrant red in the autumn season. The Red Maple generally reaches heights of nearly 100-120 ft., while its signature leaves range from 3 to 5-lobed, with each of the lobes separated by distinct V-shaped angles. Known by many names, this deciduous tree has also been referred to as the “swamp maple,” “water maple,” or “soft maple” and is the most common tree in the United States, making appearances up the entirety of the East Coast.
As a result of their ability to grow so easily, the Red Maple is thought of by many as an invasive species and has slowly taken over some East Coasts forests to the point where it has pushed out Oaks, pines, and other trees native to those areas.Their roots form a dense, fibrous network, which often prevents other plants from growing too close to the trunk. For those with Red Maples on their property, note that these trees are very tolerant of most soils, but prefer a slightly acidic soil paired with moist conditions.
Oak genus (Quercus sp.)
There are nearly 600 different species of Oaks. With about 90 species in the USA and another 160 species in Mexico, the largest variety of those species can be found here in North America. Oaks are easily identifiable thanks to their unique, spirally-arranged leaves and acorns.
Because of their strength and their ability to thrive in a number of different environments,
Oaks can live to be hundreds of years old as they grow into their massive trunks and long, slender limbs. An ever-popular and common tree, the Oak is the state tree of Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington D.C.
Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Commonly known as the “tulip tree” for its vibrant yellow flowers, the Yellow Poplar is a flowering tree that can be found across the eastern U.S. and is the state tree of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. These trees bloom in the spring and in their youngest stage will have smooth, dark green bark. As they age, the bark acquires a more rough, rigid appearance that is brownish-gray in color.
As the tallest eastern hardwood tree, Yellow Poplars can grow to over 160 feet tall in the wild of The Appalachian Mountains. Unfortunately, this tree species can be a difficult one to care for as it is especially susceptible to problems with pests and disease. Because they grow so quickly, they are known as “weak-wooded,” meaning that ice and snow in the cold months can cause limbs to easily break off. Even though they have a rather shallow root system, Yellow Poplars need to be planted in a large area.
They prefer moist, slightly-acidic soil that is well-drained and need to receive lots of sun in
order to thrive.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Often an annoyance to homeowners because of the sharp and finicky fruits they drop (also called burrs), sweetgum trees can be recognized by their five-pointed, star-shaped leaves that turn brilliant red, purple, yellow, and orange in the fall. This tree gets its name from the gum-like substance that oozes when the tree suffers wounds to the branches or bark. Its deeply ridged bark is similar to that of an Oak, which is why sweetgum is sometimes called “alligatorwood.”
Often reaching heights of up to 120 feet and diameters of 4 feet or more, sweetgum trees generally grow very straight, making them excellent for lumber usage. These trees are found throughout the Southeast, predominantly in wet areas like swamps or river bottoms that are prone to flooding, and do best with full sun and non-alkaline soils.
Hickory genus (Carya sp.)
The Hickory tree is a common deciduous tree with potentially 12 different species being found in the USA. Their serrated and oval-shaped leaves, which can usually be found near the ends of branches in bunches of 5 to 17, and their signature Hickory nuts are a great way to identify them. Hickory trees are notoriously slow-growing, making them one of the hardest tree species to transplant because of their long taproot. For this reason, they are often hard to find in nurseries.
Prized for their hard, stiff wood, Hickory is commonly used for tool handles, walking sticks, smoking meats, and much more. Be mindful of the type of Hickory you have in your backyard. Although some are versatile enough to deal with a multitude of conditions including dry, alkaline, or acidic soil, others are more particular about what they need to stay healthy.
Leyland cypress (Cupressus leylandii)
If you are a person who enjoys your privacy while lounging at home, then you probably have a few of these trees in your backyard. A fast-growing, coniferous evergreen, the Leyland Cypress is a popular tree for parks and gardens and are frequently used to form hedges and screens on properties. Identified by their small, circular cones and short, green leaves, Leyland Cypress trees grow like crazy and can grow to nearly 50 feet tall in as few as 15 years.
Foliage is generally a deep green color with aromatic branches covered in scaly needles. The bark of this tree is usually a dark red or brown and has deep grooves. Because they often have shallow roots, Leyland Cypress trees are easily susceptible to toppling or breaking, especially in extreme weather conditions, and can thrive in a variety of different soil conditions. Just watch out for the sap, as it has been known to cause skin irritation for some individuals!
Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana)
Bradford Pear trees are considered an invasive species in North Carolina because of their ability to thrive in a multitude of soil and weather conditions. Capable of surviving droughts, air pollution, and intense heat, these trees are easily recognized by their distinctive white flowers and pungent smell. Through Bradford Pears were once planted as ornamental trees, they quickly spread throughout the South, and now many think of them as nuisances (mainly because of their fishy smell when blooming).
The trees are also prone to breaking and snapping during storms, making messes of yards and neighborhoods.
Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia)
Crepe Myrtles are known for their smooth trunks and paper-thin sheets of bark. Their long-lasting flowers that bloom during summer make them popular trees for gardens and landscapes. In fact, most people love these trees because they are in bloom when not many other trees are, which garners them quite a bit of attention. Their crinkled flowers are similar to the texture of crepe paper (which is where the name comes from) and can range in color from white to purple to red. Crepe Myrtles are extremely tolerant of a wide variety of soils and conditions, though they do best in full sun and moist soil.
If you plan to prune your Crepe Myrtle, it’s a good idea to take extra caution and call in the help of the experts.
River Birch (Betula nigra)
The River Birch is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 300 feet tall. It’s actually one of the few species of birch trees that grow in the south because of its unique ability to handle the heat, though it has also been known to deal well with moderate salt presence and even flooding for extended amounts of time. Commonly found in and around swamps and floodplains (hence the name), the River Birch can be identified by its unique gray and brown bark that peels away in thin, papery sheets.
Even though it can stand up to the heat, this tree does best in moisture-rich soils, as it will often lose leaves in dry weather and during the summers when the soil drains quicker. For this reason, backyards with well-drained soil will often see their River Birches dropping yellow leaves during periods of drought. Pruning in the spring is also not recommended, as the tree’s sap tends to bleed out at this time.
Magnolia (Magnoloa grandiflora)
The sight and smell of the Magnolia Tree is iconic to the American South. With their shiny, broad leaves and large white flowers, magnolias are easily recognizable. However, anyone who has ever had one in their yard also knows how much of a pain it can be to rake up all those leaves.
To properly care for a magnolia, make sure it has lots of space to grow and is properly mulched to prevent issues with erosion, as its shallow roots will not allow anything else to grow beneath it. Although this tree does best in moist soil, it should be kept relatively well-drained. Magnolias are generally easy to care for as they do not require frequent pruning.
American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
The American Beech is a deciduous tree found all along the East Coast. They can be identified by their smooth, gray bark and dark green leaves that are oval in shape and have small teeth along the edges. Frequently found near sugar maple trees, American Beeches grow well in shaded areas. Because they require lots of moisture and rich soil, beech trees were once used as a sign of good farmland.
Beautiful, slow-growing trees that become golden in fall, American Beeches are recommended for larger areas with lots of space, as nothing can grow beneath their shallow roots. These trees thrive in acidic, moist soil, and often fail in soil that is too wet or compact.
With such a breadth of different trees in the area, it’s important for homeowners to know how to identify the trees on their property. We hope reading through this guide will be the first step in helping others to better understand the trees that they might encounter in their very own backyard.