Arbor Day is a day we specifically set aside to celebrate and appreciate the role living trees play in improving our lives and our environment. With that in mind, many people plant trees to celebrate the occasion and this time of the year is, without a doubt, the perfect time to plant additions to our landscape and what could be better than selecting a tree that actually flowers in the spring to add some panache.
One of the best reasons for choosing a flowering tree is they will add so much color and beauty to our landscapes over the next few months. Throughout this article I am going to mention some of my favorite trees that do very well in this area and list some of the reasons I find those listed here remarkable. Do understand though, this is not a complete list of all the flowering trees, just several that I personally find remarkable and worth mentioning. A University of Florida EDIS publication written by Dr. Gary Knox that can be found here lists many more flowering trees that do well here in North Florida. In addition there is a book, The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists, written by Lois Trigg Chaplin which includes many more that will do very well in this area.
One of my personal favorites is the Red Maple. At 40 feet tall, this is one of the largest of the spring-flowering trees (Acer rubrum), and it is coming into bloom right about now.
The Red Maple is a Fantastic Choice for North Florida Landscapes
This tree species separates the sexes into individual plants, so there are male red maple trees and female red maple trees. It is the females that put on the more attractive display in the spring. Not only are their flowers more showy, but those flowers turn into attractive fruit. You may notice these trees in your area – with their deep-red, burgundy or rusty-red, boomerang-shaped fruit clustered all along their leafless branches.
The red maple also makes an excellent shade tree. Although it can grow in wet areas, it adapts readily to well-drained urban landscapes. It is a deciduous tree with an upright oval shape and a moderate to fast rate of growth.
Another choice, the Taiwan flowering cherry (Prunus campanulata), produces deep pink in great abundance before the leaves emerge. Flowering generally begins in mid- to late January and extends over two to three weeks. This is one of the few flowering cherries that grows and blooms reliably this far south. It prefers to grow in a sunny to partly sunny location with excellent drainage.
The ‘Okame’ flowering cherry is another type that will grow successfully in North Florida. Pale pink flowers are produced in March or April.
The Oriental magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) is one of the most spectacular of the spring-flowering trees because its flowers are so large. Unlike the evergreen Southern magnolia, the Oriental magnolia is deciduous and loses its leaves in winter. Appearing in January and February before the foliage comes back, the fragrant flowers are tulip-shaped, 4 inches to 6 inches across and may be flushed pale pink to purple on the outside and white on the inside. Long-lived and reliable, Oriental magnolias grow 15 feet to 20 feet tall and need a sunny location with good drainage.
The related star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is smaller, growing 10 feet to 12 feet tall, and is more shrub-like. Its white or pale pink flowers are star-shaped and wonderfully fragrant. Blooming in late January or February before the foliage reappears, the star magnolia is an excellent choice for small space gardens.
The native silver bell (Halesia diptera) is a lovely tree that is often recommended as a substitute for dogwoods and is less fussy about its growing conditions. The trees do not really resemble each other that closely, but the silver bell does bloom at about the same time with small, four-petal, white flowers that hang down in large numbers from the branches. The thin leaves allow light to filter through, creating a lovely effect under the tree. They grow well with light shade or in full sun and mature at about 25 feet to 30 feet.
The hawthorns are a wonderful group of native trees that provide spring bloom as well as fruit for human or wildlife consumption. One of my favorites is the parsley hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii). Growing 15 feet to 20 feet tall, it is an excellent choice in patio or small space plantings. The clusters of white flowers appear in March or April and are soon followed by the foliage, which looks like flat Italian parsley, hence the tree’s name. The small red fruit that ripen in fall are relished by mocking birds. Parsley hawthorn is tolerant of poorly drained soils and grows in full sun to part shade. When the trees are young they possess thorns.
Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a delightful native tree that thrives in well-drained locations with full sun to partial shade. The flowers are greenish white and are produced in masses all along the branches. The narrow petals and hanging habit give the flowers a fringe or beard-like appearance. In the wild you usually see them growing on the edge of the woods. The Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus) also grows well here and is even showier than our native species.
Another excellent spring-flowering tree is the redbud (Cercis canadensis), which usually blooms in late February or March. Small, pinkish-purple, pea-like flowers are produced in unbelievable profusion along the branches (and even on the trunk!) before the leaves appear. This habit of blooming before the leaves grow out is fairly common among the spring-flowering trees and really adds to the impact of the flowers. Redbuds are relatively fast growing once established and prefer full sun and a well-drained location.