Arkansas has approximately 11.7 billion trees, which cover 18.9 million or 56% of the state. It is against the law to cut down, vandalize or steal trees in Arkansas, thus increasing the number of trees in the state.
Arkansas is home to a diverse array of native trees, including both deciduous and evergreen species. Some of the most prevalent native trees in the state include oak, hickory, pine, and cypress.
These trees play an essential role in the state’s ecosystem, providing a habitat for many plant and animal species. Additionally, they are a vital source of timber and other natural resources.
Here are some of the most common native trees in Arkansas.
1. Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
Silver maple is a deciduous tree known for its fast growth rate and distinctive silver-white bark. The tree can grow to a maximum height of around 100 feet and grows best on wet, well-drained soils in temperate or subtropical climates.
The maple tree’s wood was used to make dugout canoes and other items, while its bark treated various ailments. The tree’s sap was also a food source for some Native American groups, who would boil it down to make maple syrup and sugar.
Silver maple has strong and durable wood. As a result, it is frequently used in maturing furniture and other wood products, as well as for pulp and paper production. The tree is also famous as a shade tree, and its attractive bark and foliage make it a desirable ornamental tree for landscaping.
The silver maple gets its name from the silvery color of its leaves and bark. It is a fast-growing tree that may reach 80-100 feet in height and spread 40-50 feet.
The tree’s bark has a distinctive furrowed pattern, with a light-colored layer of tissue underneath it that gives it a silver sheen. The tree’s leaves are also silvery in color, with a slightly fuzzy texture. The silvery coloration helps the tree reflect sunlight and stay cool in hot weather.
Birds and animals also use the silver maple tree for food and shelter. For example, the tree’s seeds are a favorite food for squirrels and other small mammals, while its branches provide bird nesting sites. Its leaves are also a food source for certain species of caterpillars, which are, in turn, eaten by birds and other animals.
2. Pawpaw Tree (Carica papaya)
The pawpaw is a tropical fruit tree native to the eastern United States that can grow 15 to 30 feet high and spread 20 to 25 feet. The tree has a distinctively tropical appearance, with large, oblong leaves and clusters of small, fragrant flowers. The fruit of the pawpaw tree is yellow or brown and has a custard-like texture.
The pawpaw tree grows well in wet, well-drained soils with moderate shade. It can tolerate various temperatures but is not cold-hardy, and frost can damage it.
Native Americans often ate the fruit of the tree fresh or dried, and made a tea-like beverage with its leaves. Additionally, the tree’s bark has medicinal value.
3. The Boxelder Maple (Acer negundo)
The Boxelder maple is a tree native to North America. It typically grows to 30-60 feet and spreads to 20-30 feet. The tree has distinctive, three-lobed leaves that are dark green and turn yellow in the fall. The bark is smooth and grayish, and the fruit is a tiny, winged seed.
The Boxelder maple prefers wet, well-drained soil that receives full sun to light shade. It can withstand various temperatures and soil conditions but is not cold-hardy.
Native Americans used the Boxelder maple for various purposes. The tree’s wood made tools, weapons, and bark for healing purposes. Some Native American groups also ate the seeds.
The Boxelder maple gets its name because it often grows near boxelder trees. The two species are usually some Native American groups that also ate the seeds.
4. American Smoke Tree (Cotinus obovatus)
Also known as the Chittamwood, the American smoke tree is a tiny deciduous tree endemic to the southeastern United States. It is well-known for its lovely purple or reddish-pink blooms, which appear in early summer or late spring.
During its growth season, the leaves of the American smoke tree are green, but they turn yellow or purple in the fall. The tree typically grows to 15 to 25 feet and has a similar spread at maturity.
The term “smoke tree” refers to the spikelet of the tree, which is “smoky” pink and can completely cover the tree at its height.
The American smoke tree produces small, round fruits about the size of peas. These fruits are green when they first appear but turn brown as they mature.
The tree is often grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and parks. It is also sometimes used in landscaping and as a street tree. The tree is also popular with birds, and other wildlife attracted to its flowers and fruits.
5. Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)
The longleaf pine is a coniferous tree known for its long, needle-like leaves, up to 18 inches. The bark of the longleaf pine is reddish-brown and deeply grooved, while the leaves are dark green.
As for its growth rate, the longleaf pine is a slow-growing tree, and it may take up to twenty years to reach its maximum height of 80 to 100 feet. However, once the tree reaches maturity, it can live for up to 400 years. The tree has a deep and extensive root system, which allows it to thrive in dry or sandy soils.
The longleaf pine prefers well-drained, sandy soils and full sun. It is also drought-tolerant and can survive in areas with low levels of rainfall.
Native Americans historically used longleaf pine for various purposes. For instance, the tree’s wood made multiple tools, while the bark weaved baskets and other handicrafts. The longleaf pine is still used for pulpwood and lumber and is also famous as a decorative tree. It is also important to wildlife, providing habitat and food for various animals.
6. The White Oak (Quercus alba)
White oak is a native of central and eastern North America. You can distinguish the tree with its white bark and dark green leaves with strongly lobed margins.
The white oak is a slow-growing tree, and it can take up to 50 years to reach its maximum height of 80 to 100 feet. However, once the tree reaches maturity, it can live for up to 500 years. The tree has a deep and extensive root system, allowing it to thrive in various soils.
The white oak prefers well-drained, fertile soils and full sun. It is also drought-tolerant and can survive in areas with low levels of rainfall.
The tree’s wood is solid and durable and is used to make various products, including furniture, flooring, and barrels. Native Americans used the tree’s bark to make multiple items, including baskets. Moreover, they used it as medicine. Today, white oak is still used for lumber and other wood products and is also famous as an ornamental tree.
Did you know that the white oak is the state tree of Illinois? It was also chosen as America’s national tree by Congress in 2004.
7. Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
The tree is known for its rapid growth rate, reaching heights of 100 feet and spreads of up to 40 feet. The bark of the southern red oak is dark brown or reddish, and the leaves are green and glossy, turning reddish-brown in the fall.
The southern red oak has a deep, spreading root system and prefers well-drained, slightly acidic soils. It also requires full sun for optimal growth and is drought-tolerant once established.
Native Americans used the southern red oak for various purposes, including making baskets and medicine. In addition, southern red oak wood has many uses for furniture, flooring, and other wood products. The tree is also an important food source for wildlife, including deer and other mammals.
The tree is a member of the red oak group, known for its high tannin content and solid and durable wood. Therefore, it is an excellent choice for construction and other applications where strength and durability are essential.
8. Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
The burning bush is a popular name for the shrub species native to eastern Asia. It is a deciduous shrub that typically grows about 10 to 15 feet in height and 10 to 15 feet in width. The burning bush’s bark is usually grey or brown, and the leaves are oval-shaped and range from green to yellow or reddish-purple.
The burning bush has a shallow root system that spreads out horizontally, making it ideal for planting in areas with well-drained soil. It prefers to grow in partial to full sun and tolerates various soil types, including acidic and alkaline soils.
In terms of watering, the burning bush is drought-tolerant and only requires regular watering during prolonged periods.
As for its growth rate, the burning bush is considered a fast-growing shrub and can reach its maximum height within a few years when grown in optimal conditions. However, its growth rate may be slower in areas with less favorable growing conditions.
Native Americans have used the burning bush for medicinal purposes, as well as for making dyes and other products. Today, it is mainly an ornamental plant in gardens and landscaping due to its attractive foliage and ability to attract birds and other wildlife.
The burning bush gets its name from its leaves turning a bright red color in the fall, making it appear like the shrub is on fire. Therefore, it is popular among gardeners who want to add fall color to their landscape.
9. Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
The cypress is a type of tree native to Arkansas, particularly the swampy areas of the Gulf Coast. It is known for its distinctive appearance, with a pyramidal shape and branches that droop down toward the ground. Its bark is reddish-brown, and the leaves are needle-like and green.
In the fall, the leaves turn to a golden-bronze color before falling off. Additionally, its ability to withstand flooding and its distinctive “knees” protruding from the ground makes it unique.
The oldest tree in Arkansas is a bald cypress tree known as the “Old Granddad,” located in the Big Cypress Tree State Park. The tree is over 2624 years old and is more than 120 feet tall.
The Old Granddad is a popular attraction in the state park and is a testament to the resilience and longevity of these magnificent trees.
10. Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
Beautyberry is also known as French mulberry or beauty bush. The shrub belongs to the mint family, formerly the Vervain family. Beauty bush grows all over Arkansas, although less in Ozark’s upper regions.
The beautyberry flowers bloom in late summer when most other plants start to fade. The shrub bears abundant clusters of berries that ripen to a conspicuous purple hue. The berry withstands the fall season even as the leaves shed off. They give the bare branches a purplish color.
If you are interested in toned-down beautyberry shrubs, you can try those that bear pink or white fruits. Beautyberry is a low-maintenance shrub. The deciduous plant can grow to a height of three to eight feet. Beauty bush shrub thrives in moist soil rich in organic material and has good drainage.
The above are just ten of the many plant species in Arkansas. Most gardeners prefer to have plants that are easy to tend and manage. For reliable and low-maintenance plants, native plants are your best option. Native plants are resistant to pests and not invasive when introduced to an environment. They are also suitable for biodiversity since they seamlessly co-exist with animals and other plants.
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- Agriculture, Available here: https://www.agriculture.arkansas.gov/forestry/urban-community-forestry/tree-recommendations/
- NPS, Available here: https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/aceraceae_acer_negundo.htm
- Illinois, Available here: https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/education/Pages/ILStateSymbols.aspx
- Towson, Available here: https://wp.towson.edu/glenarboretum/home/southern-red-oak/