I love trees. All sizes, colors, species — as long as they’re natives or well-behaved non-natives. No invasive exotic species, please!
We’ve all appreciated the welcome shade of a wide-reaching oak, or the Christmasy scent of pines in a cozy grove. Trees symbolize stability; their roots anchor deeply into earth; their branches reach forever skyward.
In the southeastern US, the best time to plant trees is mid-to-late fall through late winter. I usually try to get all my planting done before the end of February, but if March holds on to winter’s chill, I’ll pop in a few more new trees and shrubs during that month too. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, the roots of new dormant trees can grow, allowing them to develop strong anchor and feeding roots before summer’s heat stresses them.
Planting trees — especially our native canopy species — requires vision — time-traveling vision, actually. You must visualize the magnificent specimen your tree will become long after you are gone. You plant these trees for your children, and their children. These are family trees.
Not only human families will appreciate your visionary plantings. Myriad species of native wildlife rely on mature/maturing canopy trees for shelter and food. In Douglas Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, he provides a table that lists these tree species and the number of lepidopteran (moths and butterflies) species that rely on these trees to feed their caterpillar stages.
Given the time-scale required for an oak or hickory, a tulip poplar or a sweet gum to reach maturity, we all need to find room in our home landscapes for at least one of these essential family trees. Here are a few examples of native canopy trees with the time it takes them to reach maturity, and the number of moth and butterfly species that Tallamy says rely on them for larval food:
- White Oak (Quercus alba) — 300-600 years to maturity — 534 species of moths and butterflies
- Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) — 100-300 years to maturity — 203 species of moths and butterflies
- Red Maple (Acer rubrum) — 130-300 years to maturity — 285 species of moths and butterflies
- Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra) — 200-300 years to maturity — 200 species of moths and butterflies
- American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) — 300-400 years to maturity — 126 species of moths and butterflies
Now think about all the insect-eating birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that eat the insects that rely on these great trees. Of course, many of these creatures also live in these trees. Truly, these are family trees, and we are all members of this family.
I hope you’ll consider planting some new native family trees this fall. If you can, plant them with a child to remind both of you that family trees link us through generations, reaffirming our ties to all species, reminding us that we are all lost without trees.