31 Trees That Grow Well in any Tennessee Home or Garden Space
If you live in Tennessee, you have some growing conditions that are a bit more favorable than many northern states. This means when it comes to planting trees, you have plenty of options from fruit trees, to ornamentals. In this article, we look at our favorite trees for Tennessee homes and garden spaces!
Trees in Tennessee are unique compared to foliage other states have to offer. This comprehensive guide is for you if you’re interested in Tennessee trees. Doesn’t matter where you are thinking about planting them, we have it covered. From species native to Tennessee, to popular ornamentals for your yard or garden, there are plenty of options.
We’ll discuss the volunteer state’s common species in terms of where they grow, what climates they prefer, and physical features such as the color and dimensions of their leaves, bark, and overall shapes.
By the end of this guide, you’ll not only have a better fundamental understanding of Tennessee trees and how they are unique, but you’ll be well-equipped to identify even the more obscure species. Let’s get started!
Scientific name: Fagus grandifolia
The American beech is a deciduous slowing-growing tree that can grow to over 100 feet in height. It’s found mainly in moist areas like hollows and slopes. It has smooth gray bark that doesn’t peel. The American beech has smooth gray bark, and is considered a hardwood tree. It grows dense foliage that turns to a lighter tan color after experiencing ice and winter weather. It produces very little undergrowth.
The twigs have a distinct zigzag shape and long thin buds. The leaves the American beech produces are approximately three to five inches in length, oblong with toothed edges and a pointed tip. The veins stand out along the bottom of the leaf and are straight.
Scientific name: Ulmus americana
American elms, in appearance, can be identified by having four or fewer primary limbs that grow straight up from the trunk arch and terminate into clusters of fine branches. Its shape is most distinct in winter months when the tree’s overall v-shape and distinct branches and twigs can be seen clearly.
The American elm grows in a variety of climates, including cold, dry, warm, and humid. Its leaves grow to three to seven inches in length, have an oval shape, and have fine-toothed edges. The American elm can be distinguished from the slippery elm by examining its leaves. The American elms are smooth, whereas the slippery elm produces leaves with rough surface texture.
Scientific name: Fraxinus pennsylvanica
The green ash and the white ash are the two most common ash species found in Tennessee. Green ash trees are more commonly found in wet climates, and white ash does better in dry, well-drained areas.
Ash trees range from gray to light tan in color. Their crumbly bark is typically rough, tight, and makes a connected diamond pattern. Underneath the outer bark bark, the inner bark is lighter in color. Branches terminate in large blunt ends, which makes the ash often misidentified as a boxelder.
The leaves of an ash tree grow between nine and twelve inches in length on either side of branches. Similar to the growth of the leaves, the branches grow on either side in an alternating pattern along with the limbs.
Green ash trees can be distinguished from white ash by the large bud found in between twigs and leaves. On the white ash, the bug is much smaller and often not visible.
Scientific name: Taxodium distichum
Bald cypress, like elms, is most easily distinguished during the winter months for its shape and where it likes to grow. Its knobby projections, or knees, can be seen growing from dry or wet terrain such as standing water. However, bald cypress can be found in dry, well-drained sites.
Additionally, bald cypress drops needles during winter, making it resemble a dead cedar.
Young bald cypresses are shorter, thinner, and red-brown branches extend both low and high on the tree. The overall shape can resemble a cone as it tapers upward. The twigs along the branches showcase hard round leaf buds and leaf scars.
The larger bald cypresses flourish outward at the base, lose many of the low-hanging branches, and develop flat “knees” around the root zone. The bark is thinner and red-brown but thickens with age.
Scientific name: Quercus velutina
Both the black and the Shumard oak are part of the red oak family. Bark and shape are extremely similar. To accurately distinguish between the two, often the inner bark must be observed. This inner bark is yellow, sometimes orange, and bitter in flavor.
The Shumard’s inner bark is browner in color. However, the bark on both trees is hardy, tight, very coarse, and dark gray. The black oak and the Shumard oak can grow to great sizes with powerful limbs.
Scientific name: Juglans nigra
The black walnut tree can be identified by its dark coloration, rough-looking soft bark, and for having a relatively low number of limbs. The limbs and overall shape give the black walnut a sturdy appearance. The inner bark is a rich brown and gives off a smell distinct to the black walnut.
Leaves on the black walnut are one to two inches long, two to four inches wide, are ridged with teeth, sharp, and pointy. The leaflets are often missing from the ends.
Scientific name: Acer negundo
The boxelder is common in most urban areas, medium in size, round, and often forked in shape. The boxelder’s brittle composition often results in broken top branches. Long slender sprouts are green in color and grow in clusters or clumps on the trunk and larger limbs.
The boxelder’s sprouts, unlike other species, do not have a rough exterior bark on the stem. It’s similar in appearance to ash and can be challenging to identify during winter months when observing only the bark. Branches grow in an alternating pattern opposite each other.
The leaves come in several different shapes, are toothed, and jut outward. The tree has long thin green twigs.
Scientific name: Quercus prinus
The chestnut oak favors dry areas like slopes and ridges. It’s part of the white oak family and can grow to be very large and wide with expansive top limbs. The chestnut oak can be identified by its bark, which appears carved and fissured into channels everywhere along the trunk as if the tree was cracking and breaking as it grew.
The tree’s color ranges from gray, silver, charcoal, and brown. Its plain leaves are typically rounded at the tips, oblong in shape, toothed, and five to 9 inches in length. Additionally, the leaves are glossy, light green, and soft, almost fuzzy, underneath.
Scientific name: Juniperus virginiana
The Eastern redcedar is a medium-sized evergreen species. The bark is a light silvery brown that comes off in thin strips. The tree has thick foliage with light green to yellow scale-type leaves. The inner bark has a distinct cedar scent.
Additionally, the eastern redcedar has smaller leaves than other cedar species. The leaves are grown on four sides of the twigs and range from the normal yellow or green colors to blue.
Scientific name: Cornus florida
The flowering dogwood is a small-sized flowering tree that rarely grows over twenty feet high. Its trunk typically is under six inches in diameter. The top, or crown, stops short and flat. The trunk crooks instead of running straight with dark brown to tan bark.
Additionally, the bark appears in a block-like pattern. In winter months, large flat buds grow in an X-like design that is connected to the ends of the branches.
This tree is well known for its white flowers that bloom during spring. The flowers themselves are small with four large white petals. During the fall months, leaves and berries change to red. Some varieties of dogwood trees can also have lavender flowers.
Leaves range in color as well, from dark to yellow and green. They’re oblong in shape, broad, round, three to five inches in length, and two to three inches in width. The edges are smooth, somewhat round, and have pointed tips. The leaves’ veins sweep and curve upward from the center to the outer edges.
Scientific name: Celtis laevigata
The hackberry tree, similar to the sugarberry, is medium-large in size and likes to grow in rows. In terms of soil, they can be found in shallow limestone. Their gray coloration is similar to that of the aforementioned American beech that’s smooth in texture.
However, a key difference is the hackberry’s warts, which are protrusions that grow in clusters randomly along the trunk and branches—each twisted protrusion measures one-fourth to one-third inches tall and one-fourth inches in length.
Nest-like gatherings of twigs are another distinguishing characteristic that typically forms where the branches terminate.
The hackberry’s leaves are light green, spear-shaped, two to four inches in length, and one to two inches in width. The edges are smooth and toothed.
Sugarberry leaves are similar but can be identified by a total lack of teeth or, if toothed, does not run the full length of the leaf.
Scientific name: Tsuga canadensis
The hemlock tree grows in the eastern part of the state, which is why it is often referred to as the eastern hemlock. It’s an evergreen species whose leaves maintain their hue all year. Limbs lower on the trunk tend to droop flat to the ground in layers and bend back upwards where the branches terminate.
Its needles are three-fourth inches in length, flat, blunted at the ends, and are striped blue near the bottom. Hemlocks can be found almost exclusively in drained, moist areas like low drainages and slopes.
The eastern hemlock is the most common species in Tennessee. However, the Carolina hemlock is also prevalent in the state. To distinguish between the two, the characteristics of the needles can be observed. The eastern hemlock’s needles run fat but grow outwards in every direction with the Carolina hemlock.
Scientific name: Carya (genus)
Certain species of the hickory group, due to their tight gray bark, can be challenging to identify in the winter months. The design of the bark is often crisscrossed in X-like patterns, furrowed from smooth to rough ridges. These ridges often crack and break the bark into sections that run horizontally across the tree.
While appearing brittle, the bark is hardy and can resemble the texture of steel with occasional silver specks.
The smaller-growing hickory trees tend to keep short limbs that protrude from the trunk at right angles. Taller hickory tree limbs have strong long limbs that can fork and reach upwards. The branches are typically short and have a wavy shape.
Hickory leaves are compound with an alternating arrangement. Leaves are eight to fourteen inches in length, finely toothed, and range from yellow to green in color.
Scientific name: Pinus taeda
The loblolly pine is considered a southern yellow pine tree that can be found throughout the state of Tennessee. Although most commonly found growing in plantations, they can be found growing in more random disbursements in wild stands.
Loblolly pines have tall, streamlined trunks. They can be identified by their bark which is dark in color, thick, and rectangular. Additionally, they feature pine needles that grow in ball-like clusters or tufts toward the crown at the ends of the branches.
The needles are five to nine inches in length and very pliant when compared to other pine needles. Doubling them over should not result in breaking with the loblolly pine needles. The pine cones, or burrs, grow three to five inches in length with curved spikes.
Scientific name: Robinia pseudoacacia
The black locust tree is light brown and can be identified by its bark, described as rope-like with thorns. Additionally, thorns can be found on the twigs and leaves. The thorns measure a half-inch in length.
Alternatively, the honey locust has flat scaley bark with much larger horns that can grow up to four inches in length with additional spiky protrusions.
The black locust has compound leaves, while the honey locust has doubly compound leaves. Each grows eight to fourteen inches in length and one-fourth to half an inch in width and is rounded on either end.
Scientific name: Quercus rubra
The northern red oak is a very large well-pruned tree. The limbs are strong and spread out. The bark is dark gray with long valleys up and down the tree. Additionally, the bark can be concave, silvery, and plated in shape and appearance.
The northern red oak is often misidentified as the scarlet oak. However, the northern red oak is typically larger, better pruned, has an overall sound structure, and its sap has no scent.
The Leaves are five to nine inches in length, three to five inches in width, sprout on alternate sides of the twigs and contain divisions or lobes. The lobs are toothed, bristled, and sturdy. The color is green on top and lighter underneath. They can turn a bright red during the winter months.
Scientific name: Acer rubrum
The red maple tree is difficult to identify due to how it changes in features and appearance as it grows. The bark is gray and very smooth when the tree is young. As it grows larger, the bark becomes heavier and thicker near the bottom of the trunk. The thick chunky bark coats the entire trunk and extends to the limbs as the tree matures.
Small protrusions, or pimples, can be found along with the bark when it’s smooth. Younger thinner branches terminate to a vibrant red.
The red maple’s leaves are two to four inches in length and width. It typically has three lobes with jagged edges and a V-shaped notch.
Scientific name: Sassafras albidum
The Sassafras tree has thick rough bark that ranges from reddish to silvery. It’s commonly confused with other species, such as the black walnut. Sassafras inner bark is orange in color and has a distinctive aroma reminiscent of root beer.
The twigs are vibrant green in color and delicate. Sassafras limbs twist and cluster as they form the tree’s crown. The leaves vary. Some are three to five inches in length and may have lobs. The edges run smooth and resemble mittens.
Scientific name: Quercus coccinea
The scarlet oak is a member of the red oak family. It doesn’t exhibit the same well-formed shape as the northern red oak. The scarlet oak typically has dead or dying branches that protrude from the trunk with a warped base.
The tree’s tight dark gray bark runs in silver strips along the trunk from base to crown. The inner bark is pink, and the sap has a distinctive sharp smell.
The scarlet oak leaves are three to six inches in length, two to four inches in width, oval-shaped, lobed, bristle-tipped, and have a distinct cut-like appearance. The leaves change to bright scarlet during the autumn months.
Scientific name: Pinus echinata
The shortleaf pine grows independently mixed in with other hardwood species. It grows tall, is brown, and has plate-like bark along a well-pruned trunk. Its crown is clumped with dense foliage that allows sunlight through.
Shortleaf pines can be identified by small pockets, resembling craters, that form on the bark. The tree’s cones grow one and a half to two and a half inches in length, are prickly, and bunch along with the twigs.
The thin, flexible needles are three to five inches in length and deep green. They form in bundles near the crown.
Scientific name: Oxydendrum arboreum
Sourwood trees are typically small, growing to ten inches in diameter or less, and about three to four feet high. The bark grows in thick chunks and is silvery to reddish. Sourwood trunks curve and bend at the crown. Occasionally, delicate fruit capsules can be found hanging from the tips of the branches.
During the tree’s first year of growing, its twigs are sturdy, straight, and vibrant red. The Leaves measure five to seven inches in length and one to three inches in width. They’re toothed, grow on alternate sides of the twigs, and sour to the taste when chewed.
Scientific name: Acer saccharum
The sugar maple is distinguished by jet black patches found on the lower trunk that makes the tree appear burnt. Additionally, the tree exhibits long strips of strong curling bark.
Younger sugar maples have smoother gray bark that lacks many of the dark patches near the base. As it ages, the curling strips and dark patches form.
Sugar maples found in forests typically have low-hanging limbs that protrude outwards from the trunk at right angles. The angle sharpens toward the crown. Sapsuckers often make holes in the bark approximately one-fourth inches in diameter.
The leaves run three to five inches in length, are simple in appearance, and have three to five toothed lobes. They are dark green on top and lighter underneath. The leaves change to vibrant yellow and orange hues during the autumn months.
Scientific name: Liquidambar styraciflua
Sweetgum is light gray with rough bark. It grows tall with a slender conical crown. The limbs often have numerous ridges protruding along their lengths. Fruit capsules typically approximate the size of a golf ball and spike outwards in all directions.
The leaves are star-shaped and measure five to seven inches in width. They produce an aromatic scent when pulverized. They change to brilliant yellow, orange, red, and dark bronze during the autumn months.
Scientific name: Platanus occidentalis
The Sycamore tree is often referred to as “the tree of bleached bones” because it resembles bones with tatters of residual skin. The trunk and limbs are large, spaced, and host patches of thin, light bark. Under the peeling papery tatters is a lighter green smooth trunk. Over time, the trunk becomes engulfed by the tan outer bark that continuously sheds.
The sycamore tree leaves measure four to eight inches in width and have an unusual fan-like shape. Veins of the leaves run from the base of the stem and grow outwards, resembling finger bones.
Scientific name: Carya ovata
The shagbark hickory tree typically grows in dry, well-drained areas. Its mottled bark is gray, sturdy, and somewhat lustrous. Like the sycamore, the bark often peels along the trunk from the base to the crown. Over time, the peeling bark overlaps itself and hangs in layers measuring six inches in length or more. Each strip is incredibly strong.
The leaves run eight to fourteen inches in length, are toothed, and are light green to yellow. The leaves tend to darken towards the shagbark hickory’s crown.
Scientific name: Carya laciniosa
The shellbark hickory is very similar to the shagbark mentioned above. It’s nearly identical in both features and appearances. However, it can be distinguished by where it grows, favoring wet sites. Additionally, the leaves are more extended, reaching lengths of over two feet!
The long stems tend to hang from the limbs after shedding leaflets.
Scientific name: Pinus virginiana
Virginia, a type of southern yellow pine, can grow independently or with other shortleaf pines. It can be identified by its thin brown bark that flakes. Additionally, it features stubs that run up and down the trunk. Virginia pine crowns are slender and sparse, unlike most other pine species.
The cones measuring two inches long are slim, curved, and prickly.
Virginia pine needles twist and spread into clumps. They measure one and a half to three inches long and are yellow or green. They can help further identify the Virginia pine species by being noticeably shorter than other pine species common to Tennessee.
Scientific name: Quercus alba
White oaks have very light-colored bark. They’re usually gray with a texture that ranges from rough and tight to loose and cracking. Additionally, the bark hangs in strips from the side of the trunk.
In texture, the bark is soft and crumbly. White oak trees are enormous with strong, expansive limbs.
White Oak leaves measure five to nine inches in length and two to five inches in width. They change to a bright green color as they age, while lower leaves are paler.
Scientific name: Pinus strobus
The white pine can be easily identified by its branches. They grow in whorls of a distinctive wheel shape. Each whorl reaches the same height. Over time, the whorls cluster around the trunk. When they die, these whorls remain attached to the lower parts of the trunk, making it easy to tell the tree’s age.
The bark is a dark charcoal color with soft, pliable vibrant needles that measure three to five inches in length and form in clumps. The bluish-green needles also feature light stripes near the base.
Scientific name: Ulmus alata
The Winged elm features distinctive cork-like ridges that grow along a gray trunk and limbs. Winged elms are typically small and prefer dry and rocky sites. The crown forms into a flat rounded tip.
The leaves run one and a half to three inches in length and approximately one and a half inches in width. They feature numerous fine teeth that are rough in texture.
Scientific name: Liriodendron tulipifera
The yellow-poplar conclude are listed. It’s identified by its upright streamlined shape and smooth trunk that changes from gray to light brown from base to crown.
Additionally, yellow poplar’s can be easily identified by silvery chalk-like dust present within the nooks and channels of the bark.
In conclusion of our comprehensive look at 31 trees common to Tennessee, we hope you have a newfound appreciation and understanding of each species. Now that you understand distinct characteristics better, you’ll experience a newfound appreciation for each one as you identify it growing wild or near your home.