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22 Common Native Illinois Tree Types to Admire or Plant


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Illinois is known as the Prairie state, with two-thirds of the state covered with tall grasses.

Whilst only 19% of the original forests remain, there are still 4.4 million acres of forested land, mainly in the southern portion of the state.

Here you can find productive farmlands, lowlands, rolling hills, and over 250 species of both native and introduced trees.

Read on for some common native trees found in Illinois.

22 Native Trees You Will Commonly See in Illinois

1. White Oak (Quercus alba) – Illinois State Tree

white oak tree
Image by James St. John via Flickr

The White Oak is one of twenty Oak species native to Illinois, is the state tree, and is found in all 102 counties of the state.

The leaves are greenish yellow on top and paler below, alternate, simple, lobed, and 4-6” long. The foliage turns purplish in the fall. The dense crown provides good shade in the warmer months.

The White Oak will grow in a variety of soil types and is somewhat drought tolerant but does best in areas with deep rich moist well-draining soil. They are sensitive to waterlogging and so don’t do well in flood-prone areas.

The acorns of the White Oak are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys, and other birds. Deer browse the foliage and beavers and rabbits eat the bark and twigs.

Other Common Names: White Oak

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-100 ft tall and 50-80 ft wide

Flowering Season: May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

2. Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

slippery elm
Image by NatureServe via Flickr

The Slippery Elm is a medium-sized deciduous tree. It’s the most common species found in the forests of IL where it can be found along streams and rivers, and in both uplands and bottomlands.

Slippery Elms usually flower around February, with the leaves unfurling around April. They feature a broad, rounded, vase-shaped crown, downy twigs, and hairy buds that can be appreciated in winter, as well as a slimy red inner bark.

Flowers give way to single-seeded wafer-thin samaras, with seeds maturing in April – May alongside the leaves.

The leaves are dark green, obovate to oblong, 4-8” long, rough above, and hairy underneath with serrate margins and are asymmetrical at the base. They emerge red and turn dull yellow in the autumn.

Other Common Names: Slippery Elm

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: February

3. Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)

Red Mulberry
Image by kami rao via Flickr

Red Mulberry trees have oval to lobed leaves, and slightly serrated edges and measure up to 8” long.

In early spring, small greenish/yellow or reddish/green flowers are produced, followed by small fruit resembling blackberries initially, before maturing to shades of red and purple.

Red Mulberry trees feature short trunks and wide-spreading crowns.

The Red Mulberry can be found growing alongside rivers, streams, ravines, and depressions in the land and are highly adaptable vigorous trees.

Other Common Names: Common Mulberry

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 ft tall and 35-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills

4. Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa)

mockernut hickory
Image by Lydia Fravel via Flickr

Hickories are important Savanna species alongside Oaks. Whilst there are around 12 species of Hickory native to the United States, the Mockernut Hickory can be found in abundance in Illinois.

They feature a shaggy bark, with a dark color and shallow furrows and ridges, forming a net pattern. The leaves are thin and oval and grow in opposing pairs. Fall sees the leaves turning a beautiful shade of golden yellow if the tree hasn’t suffered through a drought that year.

The nuts are encased in a thick shell and are barely edible but are enjoyed by squirrels and other animals. The timber is valued for furniture as well as for fuel and charcoal.

The Mockernut Hickory can be found in dry, upland forests and ridges.

Other Common Names: Big Bud Hickory, White Hickory, Whiteheart Hickory, Fragrant Hickory

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall 40-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

5. Basswood (Tilia americana)

basswood
Image by 阿橋 HQ via Flickr

The Basswood is a deciduous tree that can be found throughout Illinois, growing in rich woods.

It features a dark scaly and furrowed bark. The leaves are simple and arranged alternately along the stems, measuring up to 8” long and 5” wide. They are toothed along the edges, smooth above, and hairy below.

Flowers emerge from long flower clusters, are yellow/green with 5 petals, and are highly fragrant from which bees make prized honey.

The fruit is brownish, hard, and spherical, measuring ⅓” in diameter, is covered in fine hairs, and provides food for wildlife. The Basswood can be found in bottomlands, as well as upland deciduous forests.

Other Common Names: American Linden, American Basswood, Lime Tree, and Bee Tree

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: May – July

Available at: Nature Hills

6. Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

bald cypress tree
Image by JKehoe_Photos via Flickr

Illinois lies at the northernmost limit of the Bald Cypress, which is a deciduous columnar tree with a stout central trunk and oblong crown. Some individual trees in IL are over 1000 years old!

The central trunk becomes swollen and buttressed at the base when grown in areas that experience seasonal flooding for several months a year. They can also develop ‘knees’ to help stabilize themselves.

Bald Cypress are monoecious, with trees either bearing all male (pollen-bearing) cones or all female, seed-bearing cones. The foliage has a soft and attractive aspect. In Southern Illinois, Barred Owls roost in the Bald Cypress.

Other Common Names: Gulf Cypress, Marsh Cypress, Pond Cypress

Growing Zones: 4-10

Average Size at Maturity: 50-70 ft tall and 20-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: September – November

Available at: Nature Hills

7. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Hackberry tree
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The Hackberry is a medium to large-sized deciduous tree with an upright arching branching pattern and a spreading, rounded crown. Mature trees develop corky ridges of their barks.

The flowers are unremarkable and dioecious. They appear in the spring with male flowers appearing in clusters whilst females are solitary. Female flowers give way to round berry-like drupes that mature to a deep shade of purple, each containing one seed and are attractive to many kinds of birds.

Leaves are 2-5” long, dark green, obovate to oblong with a sharp pointed tip. The fall color is not noteworthy.

The Hackberry will tolerate urban conditions such as air pollution, as well as drought, and wet, and clay soils.

Other Common Names: Common Hackberry, Beaverwood, American Hackberry, Northern Hackberry, False Elm, Nettle Tree

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 40-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

8. Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

eastern cottonwood tree
Image by Matt Lavin via Flickr

The Eastern Cottonwood features a large canopy and wide-spreading limbs which creates a vase-shaped silhouette.

The leaves are large, triangular, and medium green, turning yellow in the fall.

Catkins appear before the emergence of the leaves on pendulous clusters around March/ April and are followed by seeds covered in cotton-like hairs.

Eastern Cottonwoods are short-lived yet are one of the fastest-growing native trees and are attractive to many kinds of birds and butterflies. It’s also one of the largest native hardwoods in the eastern US. Grows best in deep, fertile well-drained soil.

Other Common Names: Necklace Poplar

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 ft tall and 35-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: March – April

Available at: Nature Hills

9. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

black walnut tree
Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr

The Black Walnut can achieve a round, low-lying crown when grown in the open, often as wide as it is tall, but is capable of reaching 150 ft in forests and plantations where the lower ⅔ of the tree will self-prune.

The alternate leaves are pinnately compound, 12-24” in length, and composed of 15-23 dark green, finely toothed leaflets. The nuts ripen in the autumn and consist of a fleshy green husk, a hard black inner shell, and a sweet oily kernel.

Black Walnuts can take between 12-15 years to bear fruit. The nuts are enjoyed by squirrels, foxes, and woodpeckers.

They are self-fertile and wind pollinated but will produce best with cross-pollination so plant more than one for a bigger harvest.

Other Common Names: East American Black Walnut

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-75 ft tall and 50-75 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

10. Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

Shagbark Hickory
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

The Shagbark Hickory is a slow-growing nut-bearing native tree. The common name comes from the tendency of the bark to shed in long strips and curl outwards.

They require little upkeep but can take many years to become established and provide shade and nuts. The foliage turns to beautiful shades of golden yellow/brown in the fall.

Shagbark Hickories will grow best in rich, moist well-draining soils.

Other Common Names: Carolina Hickory, Scalybark Hickory, Upland Hickory, and Shellbark Hickory

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 50-70 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

11. Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava)

yellow buckeye
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The Yellow Buckeye is a flowering tree with attractive yellow blooms in the springtime and orange fall colors. The blossoms are arranged in erect clusters 5-7” long.

The canopy is oval/rounded and requires little in the way of upkeep. The leaves are made up of 5-7 dark green elliptical leaflets on a long petiole.

A smooth greenish/brown fruit follows the flowers that contain 1-2 shiny seeds. The Yellow Buckeye will grow in moist, acidic, loamy, well-drained, rich sandy and clay soils.

In the wild, it can be found in mature hardwood forests where it provides shelter for many different species of forest-dwelling creatures.

Other Common Names: Big Buckeye, Sweet Buckeye

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-75 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late spring

Available at: Nature Hills

12. Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

wild black cherry tree
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The Wild Black Cherry can be found throughout IL; on roadsides, thickets, and woodland edges.

In youth, it has a conical shape; becoming oval and spreading with pendulous limbs and branches when grown in the open. The leaves are shiny on the upper sides, with a pointed tip and tapering near the base and finely serrated margins.

The flowers are white and held in hanging racemes after the appearance of the leaves. The fruit is dark red and turns black from August to October. Fall sees the foliage turn yellow.

The Wild Black Cherry is the largest and most commercially important native cherry tree. Plant in well-drained neutral to acidic soils.

Other Common Names: Black Cherry, Rum Cherry

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 ft tall and 30-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: May after the leaves emerge

Available at: Nature Hills

13. Black Willow (Salix nigra)

black willow tree
Image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr

The Black Willow is a fast-growing tree often with multiple trunks. It’s found in wet areas, growing alongside rivers, streams, and ponds.

The leaves are long and thin and taper to a fine tip with finely serrated margins. The flowers are unassuming yellow-green catkins in clusters from March to April. Male and female flowers appear on separate trees.

The Black Willow is one of the most widespread willows across the country. Mature trees are important in binding soil on river banks and stopping flooding and erosion.

The Black Willow can be used as a shade tree and also produces rich honey. Plant in sand, clay, or loam soils.

Other Common Names: Gulf Black Willow, and Swamp Willow

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-60 ft tall and 30-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: March – April

Available at: Nature Hills

14. American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

american beech tree
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The American Beech is a large tree with a spreading dense crown of horizontal branches. The leaves are glossy dark green with prominent veins and turn copper color in the autumn months and remain on the tree for most of the winter.

The American Beech produces edible beech nuts which are a valuable food source for many wild animals and also can function as a shade tree.

The bark remains smooth into old age, which is a rarity amongst most kinds of trees. In the wild, the American Beech can be found in moist, wet bottomlands.

Other Common Names: White Beech, Red Beech, Beechnut Tree, Ridge Beech

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

15. Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida - inflorescence VS leaves - GA Red Mtn State Park 2021-04-06
Image by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Flowering Dogwood is a small-sized tree, either single or multi-trunked with spreading branches and long-lasting white or pink spring blooms. The tiered branching provides great architectural interest. The fall foliage is scarlet red and the fruit are small-sized berries.

There are many types of dogwood trees and the Flowering Dogwood is one of the most beautiful eastern North American flowering trees.

The leaves are smooth-edged with prominent veins. In the wild, it can be found along riverbanks, streams, thickets, shaded forests, and dry uplands.

Plant in rich, well-drained acid soil.

Other Common Names: Florida Dogwood, Virginia Dogwood, American Boxwood, Arrowood, White Cornel, St.Peter’s Crown

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 15-30 ft tall and 25-30 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

16. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

eastern white pine
Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr

Before the arrival of the colonizer in the US, there were an estimated 3.4 billion m³ (600 billion fbm) virgin stands of the Eastern White Pine but by the late 1800s, most of this had been logged.

As the Eastern White Pine is one of the fastest-growing native conifers it’s been planted extensively as it’s valuable in reforestation projects. It’s the only pine tree with 5 needles east of the Rockies. The foliage is 2-5” long blue-green and finely serrated needles.

The bark thickens and darkens with age, becoming deeply furrowed with irregular purple-tinged plates. In pure stands, they often shed their branches on the lower half of the tree.

The Eastern White Pine is a spectacular evergreen tree that features a horizontal crown with one row added a year, becoming broad and irregular with age.

Grows best in fertile, moist well-drained soils.

Other Common Names: White Pine, Northern White Pine, Weymouth Pine, Tree of Peace

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 ft tall and 20-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

17. Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium)

The Black Haw is a small tree or shrub with a rounded outline. White flowers appear in clusters and are followed by yellow fruit which matures to blue/black and are consumed by songbirds, gamebirds, small mammals, etc., and can also be processed into a preserve.

The dark green foliage becomes red-purple in the fall. The trunk is short and the spreading branches form a rounded/irregular crown.

The Black Haw is an adaptable plant that will tolerate compacted clay and poor soils. In the wild, it can be found alongside roadsides and in thickets, and on lowland and upland wood edges.

Other Common Names: Smooth Blackhaw, Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum, and Stagbush

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 12-15 ft tall and 6-12 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – June

Available at: Nature Hills

18. Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum)

washington hawthorn
Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr

The Washington Hawthorn grows in an oval/egg shape and develops a dense crown covered in thorns that makes a good barrier.

The leaves are triangular, about 3” long, with 3-5 lobes, and toothed margins and are purple/reddish when young changing dark green in summer then scarlet/orange/purple when mature.

Bright red berries adorn the Washington Hawthorn and measure ¼” in diameter, persist into the winter months, and are devoured by birds.

It’s adaptable when it comes to soil type and is drought tolerant.

Other Common Names: Hawthorn Thornapple, Thornapple

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 25-30 ft tall and 20-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: Early June

Available at: Nature Hills

19. Boxelder Maple (Acer negundo)

Boxelder Maple Identification
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Boxelder Maple is a medium-sized tree with a short trunk and wide spreading branches.

The wide-spreading growth habit means it doesn’t resemble other maples, but if it’s a more instantly recognizable maple look you’re after, there are plenty of other kinds of maple trees you can plant in IL.

The leaves are light green, pinnately compound but the fall colors aren’t particularly noteworthy.

The Boxelder Maple is fast-growing and is suitable for shade and shelterbelts. The fruit are pale-yellow single-seeded samaras on long drooping clusters that mature in the autumn and persist into the spring. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees.

The Boxelder Maple can be found alongside streambanks floodplains and in moist woodlands.

Other Common Names: Manitoba Maple, Ash Leaf Maple, Three Leaf Maple, and River Maple

Growing Zones: 2-10

Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: March – April

Available at: Nature Hills

20. Larch (Larix laricina)

larch tree
Image by Joshua Mayer via Flickr

The Larch is a slender-trunked conical tree with sharp green, deciduous needles.

The trunk is tapering and opens up to a thin conical crown replete with horizontal branches. The needles turn golden yellow before being shed.

The Larch is an extremely hardy tree and is one of the most northern trees.

It can be found predominantly in cold and wet areas.

Other Common Names: Tamarack, American Larch, Black Larch, Hacmatack

Growing Zones: 2-5

Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: April

Available at: Nature Hills

21. Paw Paw (Asimina triloba)

Paw Paw
Image by Wendell Smith via Flickr

If you’re thinking of planting a native fruit tree then consider the Paw Paw. It’s the only temperate climate member of the custard apple family (Annonaceae). In the wild, it can be found in deep rich soil in river bottom lands where it grows as an understory tree in 25 states.

Pawpaws are slow-growing trees that require 3-4 years of growth before they are capable of producing edible fruit.

The foliage provides a tropical splash to the landscape and the growth habit is pyramidal. Paw paws are small-sized trees and the fruit has subtropical flavor notes.

Flowers appear before the leaves in mid-spring on the previous year’s growth. Flowers have maroon petals and are self-incompatible, meaning you’ll need cross-pollination from more than one genetically diverse variety.

Whilst Paw paws are understory trees in the wild, the best fruit production will occur when planted in full sun. Plant in deep, rich, fertile slightly acidic soil.

Other Common Names: Pawpaw, Papaw, Hillbilly Mango, Indian Banana, Hoosier Mango, and Poor Man’s Banana

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 12-25 ft tall and 15-20 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

22. River Birch (Betula nigra)

River Birch
Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr

The River Birch is a vigorous and fast-growing tree found on bottomlands, alongside streams and floodplains.

It can easily be cultivated in medium moisture soils in full sun or partial shade and is the hardiest of all the birches.

The River Birch can be trained as a single or multi-trunked tree. Single-trunked trees have a pyramidal shape when young but become more rounded with age. Multi-trunked trees tend to be more irregular.

The reddish-brown bark exfoliates to reveal the lighter inner bark.

The River Birch will also tolerate drier soils as well as compacted clay.

The flowers are monoecious; males are brownish appearing on dangling clusters, whilst females are smaller, upright, and greenish/yellow. The leaves are diamond-shaped and medium green with doubly toothed margins.

Other Common Names: Black Birch, Water Birch

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 ft tall and 40-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

Plant Native in Illinois

Native trees are adapted to the climate that you live in and will likely need little maintenance from you.

They also provide habit and food for local wildlife, are valuable in ecosystem restoration, and will help sequester more atmospheric carbon than non-native species.

Be sure to check the hardiness map of Illinois before you plant to ensure your success.

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