CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Red maple, dogwood, and sassafras are some of our most familiar and favorite native trees that blaze with crimson in the fall. There are many other natives, not as well-known but certainly worthy of planting in the home landscape, that provide fall foliage just as spectacular as well as other seasonal attributes such as flowers, fruit, and bark.
Here are several native trees and shrubs with outstanding fall color and four-season interest that grow well in our area.
Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) – Large tree, 30 to 50’ in height; rounded crown, spreading habit, and beautiful, smooth, gray bark; fragrant white flowers in late spring attract bees; bright green foliage in summer turns to soft buttery yellow in fall; best in full sun and well-drained limestone soil, but adaptable to a variety of soil conditions; very few pest problems; an excellent shade tree.
Black Gum or Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) – Large tree, 30 to 50’ in height; pyramidal form when young; when older, interesting zigzag horizontal branching forms rounded or oval crown; shiny green foliage in summer; yellow, orange, scarlet, maroon fall foliage; one of the best and most consistent for fall color.
Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) – Large tree, a deciduous conifer, 50 to 70’ in height; pyramidal habit with straight trunk and reddish fibrous bark; feathery green foliage turns rusty orange in fall before dropping; adaptable to a variety of soil conditions but excellent for swampy areas.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) – Small tree, 15 to 25’ in height; white flowers in early spring are followed by tasty fruits in June, loved by birds; fall foliage is yellow, apricot-orange, rusty red; smooth gray bark; adaptable to sun or partial shade and a range of soil conditions but best in moist, well-drained soil.
American Smoketree (Cotinus obovatus) – Small tree, 20 to 30’ in height; not common in garden centers but worth asking for; rounded form, scaly bark, and blue-green oval leaves that turn spectacular yellow, orange, red, and purple in fall; well-adapted to limestone soils and drier conditions.
Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) – Shrub, 6 to 10’ in height; spreading vase-shaped habit; adaptable to many soil types; best in sun but tolerates partial shade; white flowers in spring, bright red fall foliage and bright red berries at the same time are stunning; berries persist through winter.
Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) – Shrub, 3 to 6’ in height; fragrant white bottlebrush-like flowers in early spring; blue-green foliage and rounded habit; magnificent colors of yellow, apricot, crimson in fall; zigzag twigs give a fine silhouette in winter; adaptable but best in moist, rich, well-drained soil.
Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) – Shrub, 4 to 10’ in height; rounded or mounding habit with large, coarse-textured oak-like leaves that turn deep burgundy in fall; beautiful white summer flowers; reddish exfoliating bark; best in sun to light shade with rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginiana) – Shrub, 3 to 6’ in height; spreading, arching habit; fragrant white flowers in June; orange, scarlet, burgundy fall foliage hangs on well into late fall; adaptable to sun or shade, grows best in moist, acidic soils.
Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) – Shrub, 6 to 8’ in height; multi-stemmed, spreading, arching habit; it will sucker to form colonies; coarse-toothed leaves are lustrous dark green in summer, with fall color ranging from yellow to glossy red and reddish purple; creamy white flowers in late spring are followed by clusters of blue fruits in fall that birds relish; this is a tough, durable shrub adaptable to sun to part shade and dry to moist soils.
–Annette MaCoy, Penn State Extension