Underappreciated Native Shade Trees

Large attractive green tree in a field
A mature hophornbeam tree. Photo: Edward Gilman, UF/IFAS.

A good shade tree is a cool addition to any landscape.

Shade trees not only add visual interest to your yard, their cooling effect is much appreciated here in the Sunshine State. Planting the right trees in the right place can even help reduce energy use in your home.

The following are a few native trees that are not necessarily the first recommended when you ask for a shade tree suggestion, but that doesn’t mean they’re not wonderful choices.

Deciduous Shade Trees

Florida elm (Ulmus americana) is a long-lived shade tree that has dazzling rich, golden yellow autumnal foliage. Trees grow to 60 to 80 feet tall and have an elegant vase-shaped crown. As a bonus, the small leaves on these trees are easy to rake in the fall.

Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is an attractive tree with a rounded or oval crown. Its attractive bark, yellow fall color, and small wildlife loving nutlets that appear in the summer give this tree year round interest. This tree typically grows 25-40 feet tall making it perfect for smaller yards.

Evergreen Shade Trees

Elegant tree with smooth bark and lacy light green foliage
Gumbo limbo tree. Photo: Edward Gilman, UF/IFAS.

Gumbo-Limbo (Bursera simaruba) is native to South Florida and can reach 60 feet tall, although it is usually smaller in the landscape. The bark on this tree is particularly interesting as it is red and peeling. This semi-evergreen tree is great for providing shade in zones 10B to 11.

Hollies can make great shade trees in Florida landscapes. Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) generally grows to 20 to 30 feet tall while East Palatka holly, a hybrid cross between I. cassine and I. opaca, grows to be 30 to 45 feet tall. Female hollies produce berries which are a bird favorite.

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is much loved for its creamy white and fragrant flowers that bloom in spring and summer. These trees can grow up to 90 feet tall depending on the cultivar and make great shade and specimen trees. If you are looking for something a little smaller, shorter-growing cultivars are available.

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) differs from Southern magnolia by having smaller flowers and leaves with silvery undersides. Sweetbay magnolias are generally found in swamps and wet soils. The trees grow to between 50 and 90 feet tall.

UF/IFAS Publications

Big creamy white flower and long green leaves
Sweetbay magnolia flowers and foliage. UF/IFAS.

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