The North American continent is home to an enormously diverse array of landscapes, topographies, geographies, and climates, covering a total land area of close to 25 million square kilometers. Trees in North America are used for various purposes. From lumber, paper products, and clothing to sheltering leaves on the ground below. There are more than 600 species of trees in North America, but not all can be found in every region. This blog post will highlight some of the most common varieties across the continent.
- 1. Red Maple (acer rubrum)
- 2. Red Alder (alnus rubra)
- 3. Green Ash (fraxinus)
- 4. Quaking Aspen (populus tremuloides)
- 5. American Beech (agus grandifolia)
- 6. American Basswood (tilia americana)
- 7. Paper Birch (betula papyrifera)
- 8. Red Mulberry (morus rubra)
- 9. Eastern Redcedar (juniperus virginiana)
- 10. Giant Sequoia (sequoiadendron giganteum)
- 11. Coast Juniper (juniperus virginiana silicicola)
- 12. Black Locust (robinia pseudoacacia)
- 13. Pawpaw (asimina triloba)
- 14. American Sycamore (platanus occidentalis)
- 15. Shagbark Hickory (carya ovata)
- 16. Coast Live Oak (quercus agrifolia)
- 17. Willow (salix)
- 18. Balsam Poplar (populus balsamifera)
- 19. Black Cherry (prunus serotina)
- 20. Bald Cypress (taxodium distichum)
In the northern region, the North American continent surpasses the Arctic Circle, where large tundra and ice sheets bring the average temperature to between 50 and 68 °F. The influence of these ice sheets dominates in the north all the way down to the Rocky Mountains and the continent’s great lakes.
Other than this, North America has both temperate climates with an average precipitation of 20 inches a year, and Mediterranean climates towards the west coast, where the average temperature is between 57 and 70°F. Other regions have continental-tropical climates as well as sub-tropical climates.
Along with this variety of climate, the North American continent has a diverse range of topographies, including Great Plains, mountains, rivers, and densely forested areas. Moreover, North America is home to a diverse number of trees, many of which are indigenous and some of which are considered invasive species. As of 2016, it has been estimated that roughly one-third of North America’s total landmass is covered in forested areas.
This article will serve as a guide to 20 of the most common trees in North America. The article will outline the main features of each one and explain some of the defining features of each species of tree. So let’s get into it!
1. Red Maple (acer rubrum)
The Red Maple Tree is an extremely prevalent deciduous tree species in Eastern, Central, and Northern America. It is widely recognized by the striking red color of its leaves, flowers, twigs, and petioles. Red Maple is very adaptable to a variety of environments, from swamplands to dry and shifting soils.
2. Red Alder (alnus rubra)
Red Alder is a deciduous broadleaf tree that is recognized as the largest species of Alder in North America, where these trees are native species. The leaves of the Red Alder are long and ovate, and comprise bluntly serrated edges with a fine point at the end. Red Alder typically grows on cool, moist slopes, primarily along the edges of wetlands and courses of water.
3. Green Ash (fraxinus)
The Green Ash is native to eastern and central North America, and this medium-sized deciduous tree grows up to heights of 12 to 25 meters, with a 60cm wide average trunk diameter. Juvenile Green Ashes have smooth and gray barks while the barks of older trees are thick and fissured.
Large populations of Green Ash can be found in Florida, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and New York State, as this tree tends to thrive in bottom lands and streamsides.
4. Quaking Aspen (populus tremuloides)
Native to the cooler areas of the North American continent, the Quaking Aspen is a deciduous species that usually grows to 25 meters in height. The tree has a smooth, rather pale bark. Finally, the tree is considered to be the most widely distributed tree in all of North America and can be found in climates as diverse as Nebraska and Alaska.
5. American Beech (agus grandifolia)
Also known as the North American Beech, as the name implies, this tree is indigenous to North America, specifically to the eastern U.S and southeastern Canada. This medium to large deciduous tree species grows to heights of 16 to 35 meters and has smooth, silvery bark and dark green toothed leaves. Lastly, this highly shade-tolerant tree can be found thriving in rich bottomlands and well-drained slopes, such as those found in Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, and Ontario, Canada.
6. American Basswood (tilia americana)
Part of the Malvaceae tree family, the American Basswood is indigenous to the eastern regions of North America and can be found in Manitoba, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Nebraska. This medium-sized deciduous tree grows to heights of 18 to 37 meters with a trunk diameter of 1.5 meters in mature trees. Moreover, it is an extremely fast-growing tree species and has an average lifespan of up to 200 years.
7. Paper Birch (betula papyrifera)
The Paper Birch is a tree of the birch species that is native to North America. Named after its thin paper-white bark, the Paper Birch can reach heights of 20 to 40 meters and has a 75cm average trunk diameter.
Paper Birch trees do not handle humidity and heat well, which is why they can grow for up to 100 years in cold climates. Finally, the Paper Birch is widely distributed and can be found in Alaska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, New York State, Colorado, and New Mexico.
8. Red Mulberry (morus rubra)
The Red Mulberry is a species of Mulberry indigenous to eastern and central North America and is distributed across Florida, Minnesota, Vermont, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, and Kansas. Moreover, isolated populations have been found in New Mexico and Idaho.
The Red Mulberry is a small deciduous tree that grows up to 15 meters in height. Despite this it is a long-lived tree, sometimes growing for up to 125 years.
9. Eastern Redcedar (juniperus virginiana)
The Eastern Red cedar tree is a species of juniper that is indigenous to North America with a wide distribution stretching from southeastern Canada to eastern North America, and the east of the Great Plains to the Gulf of Mexico. This very dense and very slow-growing evergreen coniferous tree grows to heights of up to 20 meters in good conditions. However, in poor soil, it may never grow past a small bush stage.
10. Giant Sequoia (sequoiadendron giganteum)
Also going by the names giant redwood and Sierran redwood, the giant sequoia tree is the sole living species of the genus Sequoiadendron and is one of three redwood tree species. These trees are widely recognized as the world’s largest individual trees and can grow up to heights of 85 meters with a trunk diameter reaching 8 meters in width. Lastly, in the right conditions, the giant sequoia tree is very long living, with the oldest known individual trees at over 3,200 years old.
11. Coast Juniper (juniperus virginiana silicicola)
Also known as the coastal red cedar and southern red cedar, the coast juniper is a fast-growing evergreen tree that is indigenous to North America. The tree reaches heights of 12 to 15 meters and has a pyramidal crown with an average 25-foot spread.
The Coast Juniper is highly tolerant of urban landscapes and air pollution, due to which this tree is often used for ornamental purposes on street sides.
12. Black Locust (robinia pseudoacacia)
The Black Locust is a medium-sized hardwood tree of the deciduous variety. While the tree is native to North America, it has been naturalized elsewhere in the world where it is often considered to be an invasive species.
The Black Locust typically reaches heights of 12 to 30 meters and is an upright tree with a narrow crown and straight trunk. Finally, this highly shade-tolerant tree can be found in 48 North American states with large populations in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
13. Pawpaw (asimina triloba)
Also known as the American Pawpaw, this is a small deciduous tree indigenous to eastern North America and is part of the plant genus Asimina. This understory tree is widely known for the Pawpaw fruit that it bears, which is the largest edible fruit native to North America.
This large shrub grows up to between 11 and 14 meters in height and has large, symmetrically clustered leaves at the ends of its branches. Large populations of the Pawpaw can be found in New York State, Florida, Texas, and Nebraska.
14. American Sycamore (platanus occidentalis)
The American Sycamore or American planetree is of the Platanus tree genus and is indigenous to eastern and central North America with large populations in Maine, Nebraska, Texas, and Florida. While the tree typically grows to heights of around 40 meters, the American Sycamore is easily distinguished from other similar trees by its gray and mottled bark.
15. Shagbark Hickory (carya ovata)
Indigenous to the North American continent, the Shagbark Hickory is a widely distributed, large deciduous tree that grows to 30 to 40 meters in height and typically lives for over 300 years. The tree produced an edible type of nut which is sweet to the taste.
While found throughout the eastern United States, the Shagbark Hickory is absent from the forested areas of the lower Mississippi Delta as well as the southeastern and Gulf Coastal plains.
16. Coast Live Oak (quercus agrifolia)
Also known as the California Live Oak, this is a shrubby evergreen oak tree that is indigenous to the western coast of California. Mature Coast Live Oaks reach heights of up to 35 meters and are known for their very long lifespans, with some specimens well exceeding 1000 years old. Moreover, the distinguishing features of this tree are the branched and often contorted trunk, particularly in older trees.
17. Willow (salix)
Also known as swallows and osiers, Willow trees are deciduous trees and shrubs of the Salix genus that are indigenous to North America and are typically found growing on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the continent. These small trees can be distinguished by their watery bark sap as well as the tough roots that sometimes grow out of the ground.
18. Balsam Poplar (populus balsamifera)
The Balsam Poplar is a fast-growing and hardy North American hardwood tree that thrives on flood plain sites. While they are generally short-lived trees, some individuals growing in the right conditions have grown past 200 years old.
Moreover, this tree is widely recognized due to the rather strong yet sweet fragrance that emanates from its sticky buds which are used by the trees as a disinfectant as well as by indigenous cultures as plant-based medicine.
19. Black Cherry (prunus serotina)
Also known as wild black cherry or rum cherry, the mountain black cherry tree is a medium-sized and fast-growing deciduous tree or shrub of the prunus genus. These trees typically reach heights of 15 to 24 meters and are easily recognized by their long, ovate, and toothed leaves.
The bark of the black cherry is smooth, branded, and thin for the first decade of its life, after which it starts becoming broken and dark gray as it reaches maturity
20. Bald Cypress (taxodium distichum)
Indigenous to the southeastern United States, the Bald Cypress is a hardy and tough deciduous conifer that is highly adaptable to many different environments. The Bald Cypress can be found growing wet, dry, salty, and even swampy soils, and in the right conditions, it grows large, slow, and long. Trees typically reach heights of 40 meters and can live for over a thousand years in well-drained soils.