Return to Big Trees

Hardwoods

Hardwood trees differ from conifers (softwoods) in several important ways. Hardwood trees belong to a class of trees known as angiosperms, which means they produce seeds with some type of outside covering. This might be a fruit, such as a pear or an apple, or a nut with a hard casing such as an acorn or a pecan. By contrast, conifers are part of the class of trees known as gymnosperms, which means they produce seeds (cones) with no covering.

 

Also, unlike conifers, hardwood trees typically have broad leaves (not needles), some type of flower, and are usually deciduous—meaning their leaves drop in the colder months. While these rules apply in most cases, not all hardwoods are necessarily deciduous (the American holly is an evergreen, for example) and, likewise, not all conifers are evergreen (baldcypress, dawn-redwood, and larch all drop their needles). Hardwood trees offer valuable benefits to society (e.g., aspirin was originally derived from willow bark), timber products, energy savings, as well as food for people and wildlife.

The table below contains links to Hardwoods included in the 4th Edition of “Big Trees of Delaware”

 

Hardwood Tree Species 
Green ash Sand hickory Willow oak
White ash Shagbark hickory Bur Oak
American basswood Shellbark hickory Chestnut oak
Littleleaf linden American holly Overcup oak
American beech American hornbeam Post oak
European beech Kentucky coffeetree Swamp chestnut oak
River birch Black locust White oak
Blackgum Honeylocust Osage-orange
Ohio buckeye Bigleaf magnolia Paw-paw
Horse-chestnut Cucumber magnolia Persimmon
Sweet buckeye Saucer magnolia Eastern cottonwood
DuPont buckeye Southern magnolia Bigtooth aspen
Catalpa Sweetbay magnolia Redbud
Black cherry Red maple Sassafras
Sweet cherry Silver maple Sweetgum
Dogwood Sugar maple London planetree
American elm Black oak Sycamore
Slippery elm Laurel oak Blackhaw viburnum
Ginkgo Northern red oak Black walnut
Hackberry Pin oak Butternut
Bitternut hickory Scarlet oak English walnut
Mockernut hickory Shingle oak Yellow-poplar
Pignut hickory Southern red oak Zelkova
Pecan Water oak Unusual Trees

Green ash

Green ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica Green ash is a hardy tree that grows well in wet areas and is the most widely-distributed of the ashes, although it comprises a small percentage of the total trees in Delaware. Widely planted in cities and towns, ash trees of all types are susceptible to diseases and invasive pests such …

White ash

White ash Fraxinus americana Not often found in swampy areas, white ash can grow well on rich, moist, well-drained soils but is adaptable to other soil types. Like other ash trees, white ash wood is tough, strong, and highly resistant to shock. Thus it is sought after for handles, oars, and baseball bats. Its winged …

American basswood

American basswood Tilia americana Native to northern Delaware (though not common), American basswood prefers deep, rich soils but can also be planted in urban areas. Because it is a nice shade tree that can reach heights of 80 feet or more, basswood should only be planted in large spaces. The wood is soft, lightweight, and …

Littleleaf Linden

Littleleaf linden Tilia cordata The linden is widely grown as an ornamental tree throughout its native Europe and is the national tree of the Czech Republic. It is also widely cultivated in North America as a substitute for the American basswood, which has a larger leaf and is coarser in texture. The family of Swedish …

American beech

American beech Fagus grandifolia More common in northern Delaware, beech is easily identified by its smooth, gray bark. Beech grows on a variety of soil types and its thick canopy can form a dense shade. Its nuts are a favorite of wildlife species, but its wood is not valuable and is used for pallets and …

European beech

European beech Fagus sylvatica European beech is a large tree ranging up to 160 feet in height but usually between 80 and 115 feet tall with trunk diameters up to 5 feet. It can live from 150 years to as old as 300 years. Beech nuts are an important food for birds and other forms …

River birch

River birch Betula nigra Birch trees in Delaware are usually found along streams and ponds, and are easily identified by their curling bark. Very hardy, birches can thrive in a wide range of conditions; therefore, they are often planted in urban areas and wetlands. Birch seeds can be eaten by wildlife. While some birches have …

Blackgum

Blackgum Nyssa sylvatica Blackgum is a member of the tupelo family native to Delaware. It is one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring and one of the first to lose its leaves in the fall. Its dark blue fruit (called a drupe) is preferred by many birds and other wildlife. Its …

Buckeye

Buckeye Ohio buckeye – Aesculus glabra Horse-chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum Sweet buckeye – Aesculus octandra DuPont buckeye – Aesculus x duPontii Buckeye is not native to Delaware (although a certain state in the Midwest is well-known as the “Buckeye State”) but it is widely planted because of its showy flowers and vibrant fall color. Its …

Catalpa

Catalpa Catalpa speciosa While not native to Delaware, catalpa is found in yards and other urban areas throughout the state because it is tolerant of many soil conditions. Also known as the cigar tree due to its long seed pods, the catalpa has large heart-shaped leaves and showy white flowers. The wood is soft and …

Black cherry

Black cherry Prunus serotina Common throughout the state, the native black cherry is  found in abandoned fields, hedgerows, and immediately after timber harvests. Many cherry hybrids can endure urban conditions and are used as street plantings in cities. Black cherry fruit is a food staple for many bird species throughout Delaware and cherry wood is …

Sweet cherry

Sweet cherry Prunus avium Sweet cherry is often cultivated as a flowering tree. Its size makes it more suited for a park tree than a street or garden tree. The bark is smooth purplish-brown on young trees and thick dark black-brown on old trees. In the fall, the leaves turn orange, pink or red before falling. …

Dogwood

Dogwood Cornus florida Common in both forests and urban areas, the native flowering dogwood is a small tree (up to 40 feet) that is known for the beautiful white bracts found around its flowers in the shape of a cross. The red berries of the dogwood are a favorite of birds. However, anthracnose fungus has killed …

American elm

American elm Ulmus americana Once an important species, the American elm has virtually disappeared due to Dutch elm disease. Other elm species less susceptible to the disease are still planted in urban areas and disease-resistant cultivars are becoming more available in the nursery trade. Elms are favorite landscape trees due to their popular umbrella-like shape …

Slippery elm

Slippery elm Ulmus rubra Slippery elm is a fast-growing tree characterized by its “slippery” inner bark. Native Americans and early settlers derived a diverse range of versatile medicines from slippery elm, which was listed as an official drug in the United States from 1820 to 1936. Because the tree’s mucilage acts as an effective cough …

Ginkgo

Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba Considered a “living fossil,” ginkgo is the oldest tree species in the world and a link between conifers and prehistoric plants. It is often planted in parks, gardens, along streets, and in urban areas because it is very hardy and resistant to disease. Male ginkgos are preferable because the fruit of female …

Hackberry

Hackberry Celtis occidentalis Scattered throughout the state, hackberry prefers moist soils but tolerates poor, sandy soils. It is a good tree for parks and large open areas because it can withstand dry, windy conditions. Hackberry leaves are extremely variable but the tree can be identified by the corklike ridges and warts on its bark. Its …

Bitternut hickory

Bitternut hickory Carya cordiformis Bitternut hickory is one of four hickory species (along with mockernut, pignut, and shagbark) that are common in Delaware. In general, hickory trees are identifiable by their alternate, compound leaves. Much like other hickories, bitternut displays brilliant yellow fall color.  Hickory wood is durable, very hard, and commonly used for tool …

Mockernut hickory

Mockernut hickory Carya tomentosa Mockernut hickory is considered one of the most abundant hickory trees and is often found on drier soils of ridges and hillsides. Unlike bitternut, it produces nuts that are sweet. It is also called white hickory due to the light color of its wood. An excellent source of fuel wood, mockernut …

Pignut hickory

Pignut hickory Carya glabra Pignut hickory is a common but not an abundant species in the oak-hickory forest association in the Eastern United States. Other common names for this tree are sweet pignut, coast pignut hickory, smoothbark hickory, swamp hickory, and broom hickory. Its pear-shaped nut ripens in September and October and constitutes an important …

Pecan

Pecan Carya illinoinensis Pecan is one of the better-known hickories. The early settlers who came to America found pecans growing over wide areas. Farmers harvest the nuts after they have fallen from the tree because nuts on the tree are still growing. In addition to the commercial edible nut it produces, the pecan provides food …

Sand hickory

Sand hickory Carya pallida Sand hickory is an unusual tree well-suited to dry, sandy upland soil. It can make a great specimen or shade tree. Like other hickories, it displays a beautiful yellow color in the fall, which is when the nuts mature inside the splitting husks. Experts recommend preserving and cultivating this tree if …

Black walnut

Black walnut Juglans nigra Native to Delaware, walnut prefers deep, rich, moist soils. Walnuts are usually planted in open areas within an urban environment because they are allelopathic (produce toxins harmful to other plants). Walnuts develop best on deep, well-drained soils and black walnut trees are prized for their wood, which is used for veneer …

Shagbark hickory

Shagbark hickory Carya ovata Common in Eastern forests, shagbark hickory gets its name from its distinct bark, which separates into long strips that give the tree a “shaggy” look. Like other hickories, its wood is strong and hard and can be used as a smoke wood for meats. Shagbark hickory is often found amongst oak …

Shellbark hickory

Shellbark hickory Carya lacinosa The nuts of the shellbark hickory are a favorite of wildlife because they are both sweet and edible and the largest of all the hickories. In addition to tool handles, the tree’s hard and durable wood is also ideal for fuelwood and charcoal. The common name refers to the mature bark …

American holly

  American holly Ilex opaca The native American holly is easily identified by its dark green, thorny leaves and smooth bark. Holly has both male and female trees, with females producing ornamental red berries that are a favorite food for birds. The American holly was named Delaware’s official tree in 1939 when the state was …

American hornbeam

American hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana American hornbeam, also known as blue-beech, ironwood, or musclewood, is a small, native tree that seldom exceeds 30 feet in height. Its fruit is a small, egg-shaped nut. Its main distinguishing characteristic is its smooth, blue-gray bark (similar to a beech) that often appears twisted or contoured like muscles. Though not …

Kentucky coffeetree

Kentucky coffeetree Gymnocladus dioicus While not native here, Kentucky coffeetree is the only member of its genus native to North America. A member of the legume family, it has sometimes been called the “dead tree” as it lies dormant for six months of the year (gymnocladus means “naked branch”). Its seeds (said to resemble coffee …

Black locust

Black locust Robinia pseudoacacia Locust refers to certain trees in the legume family. Black locust is native to the eastern United States and, though not naturally found in Delaware, is widely planted as a shade tree. However, in some parts of the United States, the tree is considered invasive due to its aggressive growth and …

Honeylocust

Honeylocust Gleditsia triacanthos Honeylocust is a fast-growing tree that tolerates poor soil conditions and is useful for establishing shade trees in new housing developments or parks. The fruit of the honeylocust is a flat legume (pod) that matures in early autumn. The pulp on the inside of its pods is edible, unlike the black locust, …

Bigleaf magnolia

Bigleaf magnolia Magnolia macrophylla Magnolias are among the oldest flowering trees and are very popular for landscaping uses because they have highly fragrant flowers and birds and rodents often like to feed on the tree’s small, bright-red seeds. Bigleaf magnolia is a medium-sized deciduous tree known for its large leaves and large flowers. It has …

Cucumber magnolia

Cucumber magnolia Magnolia acuminata Cucumber magnolia is a deciduous flowering tree with dark-brown, furrowed, and very scaly bark. Its wood is light and soft but not strong or durable. It is used in furniture and cabinet-making, and occasionally for flooring. This tree often has a pyramid-shaped crown, small branches, and a straight trunk. Cucumber magnolia …

Saucer magnolia

Saucer magnolia Magnolia soulangeana Saucer magnolia is a medium-sized deciduous tree that gets its name from the saucer-shaped flowers that bloom in early spring: pinkish-purple on the outside and white on the inside. A fast grower with a good tolerance for pollution, the tree features foliage that maintains a high quality throughout the season. In …

Southern magnolia

Southern magnolia Magnolia grandiflora Southern magnolia is a large, striking evergreen tree. Like other magnolias, it is considered easy to grow and generally free of pests. The Latin term “grandiflora” literally means “big flower.” The tree’s beautiful white flowers measure from 7 to 8 inches across. Experts believe magnolia flowers evolved at a time when …

Sweetbay magnolia

Sweetbay magnolia Magnolia virginiana While there may be several species of magnolia planted in Delaware, only sweetbay magnolia, more commonly found in wet areas of southern Delaware, is actually native. Deciduous in the northern part of its range, it can reach over 60 feet tall on ideal sites. Its wood is soft and used occasionally …

Red maple

Red maple Acer rubrum While several maple species occur here, only red maple is common (in fact, it is the most numerous tree in Delaware).  Planted in urban areas for its colorful fall foliage, red maples adapt easily to most environments. Red maple produces reddish-colored flowers in springtime before the leaves appear. This is followed by …

Silver maple

Silver maple Acer saccharinum Silver maple is a fast-growing shade tree that prefers wet areas but is very adaptable and can do well in urban areas. However, its wood is brittle and often damaged by storms. Silver maple also does not have autumn color comparable to other maples and its leaves often turn a pale …

Sugar maple

Sugar maple Acer saccharum Sugar maple is a valuable hardwood tree. It provides high-quality lumber that is heavy, strong and shock-resistant, useful for both furniture and hardwood flooring. Maple wood is especially suitable for bowling alleys and dance floors. The sap of the sugar maple is used to make maple syrup and maple sugar. The …

Black oak

Black oak Quercus velutina Black oak is a common tree on the dry uplands of eastern forests. Like most other red oaks, it has spiny, pointed lobes. Its acorn is oval or rounded and enclosed for about half its length in a deep, scaly, bowl-shaped cup. In spring, its unfolding leaves are a deep red …

Laurel Oak

Laurel oak Quercus laurifolia Laurel oak is a rapidly growing tree usually found on sandy soils such as the edges of rivers and swamps. Its leaves are semi-deciduous, which means that the current year’s leaves remain on the tree while those of the previous year will fall. Its acorns are small and dark-colored, with a …

Northern red oak

Northern red oak   Quercus rubra Red oaks are usually distinguishable from white oaks by the pointed lobes on their leaves and the fact that their acorns are mostly bitter-tasting and don’t mature until their second season. Red oak wood is hard, stiff, and high in shock resistance, but it is also extremely porous. While its …

Pin Oak

Pin oak    Quercus palustris Pin oak prefers deep, moist, rich soils such as those in bottomlands and the borders of swamps. Wood from pin oak takes special handling because of its tendency to split.  Its acorn is quite round, about a half-inch in diameter, light brown with a thin, scaly, saucer-shaped cup. The trunk is …

Scarlet Oak

Scarlet oak Quercus coccinea Scarlet oak is a native deciduous tree that can often be found on dry, sandy, acidic soils. The scarlet oak has comparatively small branches that spread to form a rather narrow, open, irregular crown. The acorn is one-half to 1 inch long, oval, and enclosed from one-third to one-half of its …

Shingle Oak

Shingle oak   Quercus imbricaria Unlike many other red oaks (except laurel and willow oak), shingle oak has simple and unlobed leaves that are usually 3 to 6 inches long and 1 to 1.5 inches wide. The tree’s name derives from its use as a source of wooden shingles. Often taking on a pyramidal shape when …

Southern Red Oak

Southern red oak Quercus falcata Southern red oak is a medium-sized deciduous tree that has leaves identifiable by a distinctive inverted bell shape at the base and a long, narrow central lobe. Its acorns are round in shape with a scaly cup that covers about one-third of the fruit. Southern red oak tends to be …

Water oak

Water oak Quercus nigra Water oak is a bottomland species that will also grow on upland sites. Its leaves are variably shaped but usually exhibit three indistinct lobes. The tree is easily damaged or killed by fire. On good sites the tree has a slender, straight trunk and can occasionally reach heights of 100 feet …

Willow oak

Willow oak Quercos phellos Willow oak is so named because of its willow-like deciduous leaves. High-quality trees tend to be found on bottomland soils where they can grow from 80 to 100 feet tall. Willow oak can be almost evergreen in the southernmost portion of its range, but not in Delaware. Its trunk is often …

Bur Oak

Bur oak Quercus macrocarpa Bur oak is named for its rounded fringed acorns,  which are the largest of any oak in North America (“macrocarpa” means “large fruit” in Latin).  A rather slow-growing tree that can live for hundreds of years, it is resistant to fire and drought due to its large taproot. Every few years, …

Chestnut Oak

Chestnut oak Quercus prinus Although common on dry, rocky soils, chestnut oak grows best in well-drained coves and bottomlands. As with most white oaks, its growth is slow on almost all sites. It can form pure stands on poorer sites of hillsides and mountain slopes, but is most often mixed with other species such as …

Overcup Oak

Overcup oak  Quercus lyrata Overcup oak gets its common name from its acorn, which is almost entirely covered over by its cup. It can take from 25 to 30 years before the tree produces acorns, and they are one of the few white oaks whose seeds do not germinate until spring. Predominantly found on poorly-drained …

Post Oak

Post oak Quercus stellata Post oak is a slow-growing deciduous oak with stout branches that often form a dense, spreading, round-topped crown. Recognizable by its leaves, which take the shape of a Maltese cross, it grows on a variety of soils and sites. Its heartwood is very heavy, hard, close-grained, and durable in contact with …

Swamp Chestnut Oak

Swamp chestnut oak Quercus michauxii Swamp chestnut oak usually grows from 60 to 80 feet in height but can occasionally grow to 100 feet or more. The trunk is often free of branches for 50 to 60 feet. With stout branches that ascend at sharp angles, the tree often forms a round-topped crown. Its wood …

White oak

White oak Quercus alba A white oak tree can live for hundreds of years. The acorns of white oaks, larger and sweeter than red oaks, are more preferred by wildlife. The tree has a rounded spreading crown in the open and thrives on deep, well-drained loamy soils. Unlike those in the red oak group, its …

Osage-orange

Osage-orange Maclura pomifera Osage-orange is native to the areas of the Great Plains historically inhabited by the Osage Indians. It was often planted in hedgerows to establish natural fences due to its stout branches and thorns. With a distinctive orange-brown bark, its large fruit resembles an orange and contains several nut-like seeds. Its very heavy, …

Paw-paw

Paw-paw Asimina triloba Native to eastern North America, paw-paw is a large shrub or small tree up to 40 feet tall. A shade-tolerant understory tree, paw-paw prefers moist, well-drained sites such as those near streams ans swamps. The larvae of the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly are known to feed almost exclusively on its leaves. Its fruit, …

Persimmon

Persimmon Diospyros virginiana Persimmons are found throughout the state but mostly in open areas or along the forest edge. Like the holly, persimmon trees are either male or female, with the female producing a seeded fruit 1 to 2 inches in diameter that sweetens as it ripens. Persimmon fruit is a staple in the diets …

Eastern cottonwood

Eastern cottonwood Populus deltoides Eastern cottonwood is one of the fastest-growing commercial trees in North America. The bark of young trees and the upper stems of older trees is smooth and greenish. The bark on old trees is dark gray, heavily furrowed, and ridged. Its fruit consists of many bud-shaped capsules on short stems that hang …

Bigtooth Aspen

Bigtooth aspen Populus grandidentata Bigtooth aspen gets its common name from its leaf that features very conspicuous rounded teeth on the edges (grandidentata for “large teeth”). Its bark is thin, smooth, and light-gray to green on younger trees and upper parts of older trees. Near the base of older trees, the bark is dark brown …

Redbud

Redbud Cercis canadensis Only native in extreme northern Delaware, this small tree is commonly planted in urban areas due to its abundant pink flowers and purple spring leaves. An excellent tree to plant near utility lines, redbud has little wildlife or timber value; however, the flower is a delicacy often eaten in soups or salads. …

Sassafras

Sassafras Sassafras albidum Common throughout Delaware, this tree is usually found on sandy soils but does not thrive in shade. It is easily recognized by its green twigs, variably shaped leaves (including mitten shapes), and spicy aroma. It is a great native tree for urban areas because of its fast growth and brilliant fall color. …

Sweetgum

Sweetgum   Liquidambar styraciflua Both common and native in Delaware, sweetgum prefers wetter sites but will grow on many soils. Easily identified by its five-pointed, star-shaped leaves and its spiny “monkey balls,” it is commonly planted in urban areas although its roots require a large area. Fall color can range from yellow to maroon to purple—all …

London Planetree

London planetree  Platanus x acerifolia London planetree is a non-native hybrid of the  American sycamore that is also planted in Delaware. Because it is less susceptible to diseases and insect pests, it has become a popular roadside tree in urban areas. The bark commonly appears as either pale grey-green, smooth and exfoliating, or buff-brown and …

Sycamore

American sycamore Platanus occidentalis Sycamore, or American planetree, is a tree native to Delaware that can grow rapidly to reach great heights and massive sizes. It is found along streams and rivers but can also be planted in drier urban areas. It is easily identified by its mottled, multi-colored bark. The whitish bark that covers …

Blackhaw viburnum

Blackhaw viburnum Viburnum prunifolium Several types of viburnum are native to the First State. While generally assuming a shrubby form, species such as maple-leaf viburnum and southern arrowwood are among the most recognizable and common understory species in our forests. One species, blackhaw, tends to have a central stem and can achieve small tree status. …

Black Walnut

Black walnut Juglans nigra Native to Delaware, walnut prefers deep, rich, moist soils. Walnuts are usually planted in open areas within an urban environment because they are allelopathic (produce toxins harmful to other plants). Walnuts develop best on deep, well-drained soils and black walnut trees are prized for their wood, which is used for veneer …

Butternut

Butternut Juglans cinerea Butternut grows best on stream banks and on well-drained soils. It is not a common tree in any area but is a fast-growing species on favorable sites. However, the tree rarely attains more than 100 feet in height and often divides 20 to 30 feet from the ground into stout limbs that …

English Walnut

English walnut Juglans regia Unlike the black walnut, English walnut is a non-native tree that is the source of the thin-shelled and easily-opened type of walnut most commonly produced for human consumption. Fast-growing and attractive, it is a landscape tree with a rounded spreading crown that does well in full sun and rich deep soils. …

Yellow-poplar

Yellow-poplar   Liriodendron tulipifera Not a true poplar (a member of the magnolia family), yellow-poplar is a valuable commercial tree because its wood is used for many products. Shade-intolerant and self-pruning, it features a remarkably straight trunk often devoid of lower branches. A rapid grower resistant to many pests and diseases, it is now a popular …

Zelkova

Zelkova Zelkova serrata Zelkova is not native, but it is currently the largest tree of any species found in Delaware. Found along many city streets in the First State, its vase-shaped crown makes it an attractive and popular urban tree. Also known as Japanese zelkova, the tree has been planted in many areas that were …