Flowering trees are everywhere – on the sidewalk, in your backyard, in parks, and deep in the forest! Flowering trees are types of angiosperms, a group of plants characterized by bearing flowers and fruit. These traits are not shared by gymnosperms, which include conifer trees like pines, firs, and spruces. Angiosperms comprise nearly 80% of all known plant species, and they grow in nearly every habitat on earth. The beauty and diversity of flowering trees have made them a staple in the world of ornamental plants. Here’s how to identify 7 beautiful flowering trees.
Magnolias represent one of the most basal lineages of Angiosperms. That is, they evolved before almost all other types of flowering plants. In fact, they evolved even before bees did! But enough about the history of plants, how do you identify a southern magnolia?
All magnolias have simple, alternate leaves which are normally quite tough and leathery. They also have large, fragrant flowers that are usually white, but sometimes they are yellow, green, or pink. Native to the southern United States, southern magnolias grow to be up to 25 meters (80 feet) tall and boast one of the most beautiful, fragrant flowers of all the magnolias. The leaves of southern magnolia are evergreen, which means they stay on the tree year-round. They are very dark green and leathery, and the underside is a copper brown color due to tiny, dense hairs.
Witch hazel is one of the few flowering trees that bloom in the early winter. This unique behavior is a good way to ensure successful pollination because insects are in dire need of food, and flowers are scarce during the colder months. There are a handful of species of witch hazel that grow in North America, China, and Japan. All of them can be pretty easily identified based on the flowers, but the leaves are good indicators too.
Witch hazel is a shrub or small tree, with multiple stems at the base. It typically doesn’t grow more than 4 meters (20 feet) tall. They have simple, alternate leaves that are wider towards the tip than the base and have large teeth on the margin. The leaves are also asymmetrical at the base. Witch hazel produces striking yellow flowers in early winter. These make identification easy when all other colors in the forest are muted.
Cherry trees grow throughout temperate regions of the world. They are highly regarded for their delicate, pink flowers that erupt in bloom during springtime. Their ephemeral flowers make them important trees in many cultures. Prunus species that can be seen lining roadsides and adorning parks. Most cultivated varieties have been breed to be fruitless, saving many a sidewalk from being covered in cherry juice and the soles of many shoes from being stained.
There are loads of species and varieties of cherry trees, making species identification of the genus challenging. So, we’ll only worry about how to identify the large genus of Prunus. Leaves are simple and alternate, usually have fine teeth on the margin, and are pointed at the tip.
Cherry trees have bark that is covered in lenticels, which are little horizontal marks that almost look like cuts. Lenticels help the tree exchange gas with the surrounding air – trees need to breathe, too! The flowers are what make cherry trees famous. In the spring, the flowers erupt and cover the tree completely in white or pink. The small flowers are clustered together in large groups and have no fragrance.
The only legume on our list is called a flamboyant. Also known as a flame tree, or peacock flower, the tree gets its name due to its extravagant, brilliant orange-red blooms. Flamboyant is native to Madagascar but is now an ultra common tree grown in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. An interesting ecological note is that this is one of the few legumes that doesn’t associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Flamboyant has big, compound, alternate leaves that resemble a fern. The leaflets are tiny and there can be hundreds on a single leaf. The large, bright red blooms are clustered along the branches and bloom for weeks. This makes identification of this tree easy for a large part of the year. The fruits of flamboyant are typical legume fruit pods. They are big, long, and black when ripe.
Unlike the name implies, the tulip tree is not actually closely related to tulips. In fact, it’s more closely related to magnolias. Tulip trees are one of the most common ornamental trees throughout temperate regions of the world, thanks to its unique looking leaves and beautiful flowers.
The leaves of the tulip tree have 4 to 6 distinct points and are almost rectangular in shape. Once you learn the leaf shape, this tree is hard to confuse with any other. The flowers resemble tulip flowers and give the tree its name. They are huge, striking, yellow flowers with bands of intense orange on the petals. Like magnolias, tulip tree flowers are incredibly fragrant, another reason this tree is so popular. The tree has a dense canopy in an oval shape when grown out in the open. Finally, the leaves turn bright yellow in fall and drop until new leaves are formed the following spring.
Dogwoods are another commonly planted species. Like cherry trees, there are many species that are somewhat challenging to distinguish. So, we’ll just worry about the entire Cornus genus.
Dogwoods have simple, opposite leaves. The leaf veins make dogwoods easy to identify. They are typically curved and point towards the tip of the leaf. The bark of many dogwood species is scaly, allowing chunks to fall off in puzzle pieces like shapes.
Like the other flowering trees on our list, the flowers of dogwoods make identifying this tree a breeze. Dogwoods have white flowers that decorate the trees during spring. However, the white “petals” aren’t actually part of the flower at all. They are modified leaves, called bracts. They serve essentially the same purpose as petals: to attract pollinators. The flowers themselves are tiny and clustered together in the center of the white bracts.
[Image by imageseeker107 via Pixabay]
Crepe myrtle is another incredibly common tree planted in yards, gardens, and parks throughout the world. The showy flowers make this a beautiful flowering tree. There are tons of cultivars that have been selected for certain colors, shapes, and sizes, but all crepe myrtles typically have the same general features.
Crepe myrtles are shrubs or small trees. The leaves are simple, either opposite or alternate, and have very short petioles. Although the leaves are variable, the bark is a reliable method of identification for crepe myrtles and a feature that makes them famous. The bark is grey or light brown and strips off in flakes, creating a beautiful, mottled texture on the trunk. This helps make crepe myrtles attractive for any garden. The flowers are another reason crepe myrtles are so attractive. Crepe myrtle flowers have 5 delicate, wavy paddle-shaped petals that range from white to pink.
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