Southern magnolia is a medium-sized, evergreen understory tree native to the southern coastal plain from the Gulf Coast across the top of Florida and up into South Carolina. Though not native to southeastern Pennsylvania, there are several hardy selections that make it possible for us to enjoy this beautiful tree in our own landscape. Listed in order of size, from largest to smallest, some of these selections include ‘Edith Bogue’, ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, ‘Kay Parris’, and ‘Teddy Bear’.
The ornamental qualities of southern magnolia are unlike any other. It has large, thick, dark green leaves with a glossy shine on top and a layer of fuzzy brown hairs below. Its classic, huge white flowers can be 12” or more in diameter and perfume the springtime air with an intoxicating, lemon soap-like fragrance. By fall, the flowers have given way to large, cone-like fruits, containing orange-red berries that dangle on thin filaments and attract songbirds.
Southern Magnolia will grow in full sun to full shade, but will perform best in part sun with moist, rich, well-draining soils. In our climate, it is best to plant in a location where it can be protected from harsh winter winds. Like all magnolias, there are no major pests and it is highly deer resistant, though bucks may rub their antlers on the smooth trunks.
American Hornbeam is a small, slow- growing understory tree that generally grows to 25 feet tall. It is so named because of the hardness of the wood which reminded settlers of a horn and an Old English term for beam which means tree. Another name for this tree is “Musclewood”. While looking at the plant’s trunk and branches they look like a flexing muscle because of the structure of the wood and the coloring of the bark. That “muscular” feature is perhaps its best identifying characteristic.
American Hornbeam is a member of the Betulaceae or Birch Family. Its flower is a non-conspicuous catkin, and the plant is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers are present on the same plant. The foliage is nice and clean throughout the season with not many pest problems. The tree is best suited for growing in moist, well drained soils in partial sun to moderate shade, although it is adaptable and will acclimate to less than ideal situations. This tree’s true beauty is revealed in the autumn when its deciduous foliage turns varying shades of yellow and orange, and then eventually drops to expose the muscular branching structure in winter. American Hornbeam is a great selection for the woodland garden. It is a species that has changed very little with cultivar selection like so many others. So when an American Hornbeam is planted in the landscape, there is a piece of pure natural beauty in the garden.
The Alternateleaf Dogwood is a small flowering tree that grows 25-30ft tall. It is named for its alternate arrangement of leaves which differs from other dogwoods which all have opposite leaves. The tree may also be referred to as the Pagoda Dogwood. This name describes the horizontal branching pattern of the tree which resembles the architecture of a pagoda and gives the tree a structural form that stands out in the landscape.
This dogwood’s small white flowers are more delicate than that of Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood), but they are numerous and arranged in large clusters that can be 2-3” across. The glossy leaves in summer will eventually turn to maroon in fall, and the small fruit grown throughout the summer will ripen to dark blue drupes and serve as a coveted food source for wildlife. This tree is frequently wider than it is tall, and can be used to fill an area with its interesting form. With horizontal branching structure in the winter, white clusters of flowers in late spring, glossy green foliage in the summer, and good maroon color in fall, the Alternate Leaf Dogwood is a tree with multi-season interest that can be used as a stand-alone specimen or as part of an understory planting.
The Alternateleaf Dogwood is a partial shade plant that grows best in moist soil. While the tree will produce more flowers and stronger fall color in more sun, too much sun will stress the tree and increase the risk of pests and disease. Powdery Mildew, Leaf Spot and Dogwood Blight are some of the diseases that can be found on this dogwood, however, these are not typically devastating, and should not steer you away from this highly ornamental native.
Known primarily for its spectacular spring floral display, the Flowering Dogwood shines as a small understory tree in the native landscape. Reaching up to 30 feet tall, this Green Ribbon Native tree grows well in shade, but will flaunt even more white blossoms in full sun. Not only does this small tree provide interest in spring but also presents striking red berries and maroon foliage in fall followed by architectural lines and interesting bark in winter. While this tree grows well in many locations, it prefers to grow in moist, acidic soils and in full sun. Flowering Dogwood is a perfect native specimen tree for the home landscape or can easily integrate in a native woodland setting.
The American born botanist, John Bartram discovered this unique understory tree in 1765 and named it in honor of Benjamin Franklin. This amazing tree was seen only along the bank of the Altamaha River in Georgia and today no longer exists in the wild. As the sightings of the Franklinia became more and more rare, the ones in Bartram’s home garden in Philadelphia flourished. The cupped, bright white-petaled fragrant blossom has a yolk yellow center resembling a fried egg. Nearing summer’s end, our Franklinia,tucked in along the white pine trees blooms down by our Pond, blooms profusely and is often smelled before seen. And the deep ruby red fall color is stunning. Truly, an award winning tree. Found in Zones 5 to 8.