Native Understory Trees: Top Trio for Thrilling Spring Trifecta

Native Understory Trees: Top Trio for Thrilling Spring Trifecta

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), redbud (Cercis canadensis) and dogwood (Cornus Florida) are rockstars of the native tree world. They really are. Spring blooms unfurl from these smaller trees in spectacularly dramatic fashion.  All are easy to grow and easy to fit in. They take shade and sunnier spots too.

Like legendary musicians, these trees keep on giving through the seasons. Berries and seed pods are followed by fabulous fall foliage.  Best of all, these trees are on the smaller side and grow well beneath larger trees.

The first to bloom are the serviceberries.  Buds emerge in very early spring, around the time of the cherry blossoms, and evolve into small white clusters of flowers dancing in the breeze. Flowers turn to red berries in early summer and then birds put on a fun show to watch, though short-lived as they eat those berries quickly.

Serviceberry shines again in fall with its brilliant gold colors. Serviceberries are commonly sold as both multi-stemmed shrubs and trees. Serviceberries are probably the least well known of the trio yet a great gift to your garden.

Native Redbud

Redbud blooms closely follow on the heels of the serviceberry. Redbuds have curious buds that emerge along branches like little sea anemones on coral.  Oh, and they are not really red at all — more pink or fuschia.

The colorful blooms are followed by a graceful canopy of heart shaped leaves.  Fall color ranges from yellows to maroon.

Native Dogwood

Native dogwoods are the spring finale for this triple play. They are classic trees. The structure of an old dogwood is a thing of beauty. While a blight began to affect dogwoods sometime ago, those concerns are now largely past and there is no reason not to add one if you so desire. To best feed local insects, birds and wildlife, look for the native dogwood. An ornamental dogwood, Kousa dogwood is also common in our area. It blooms later and grows gumball sized berries. While birds will eat those berries, the Kousa dogwood does not provide the ecological benefit a native dogwood would.

Dogwood blossoms are soon followed by flowers. During the fall season, the small red seeds are quickly consumed by birds and fiery foliage in deep reds follows.

These three natives are commonly available in nurseries and by mail. Direct Native Plants currently has each in gallon size for around $20 (find the serviceberry under shrubs).

And now, a spring gardening moment of zen.

We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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