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Three Tough and Terrific Trees

By Paul James

Here in our neck of the woods, we have dozens of great trees to choose from, both deciduous and evergreen. But there are three in particular that are as close to foolproof as you can get because they tolerate an incredibly wide range of soil conditions, are relatively pest and disease free, and are tough as nails. Oh and on top of all that, they’re beautiful.

First up is the Chinese Pistache (pictured above). Yes, it’s related to the tree that produces pistachio nuts, but unfortunately this one doesn’t produce those tasty treats. (Darn!) Chinese Pistache grows at a medium clip, and typically tops out at around 25-feet high and wide. It can get taller – up to 40 feet or more – but that’s the exception. Both male and female trees produce green panicles of flowers; females also produce small, inedible fruits that ripen in fall. Dark green leaves turn shades of yellow, orange, and red in fall, and as it matures, its gray-brown bark often peels away to reveal a salmon-colored inner bark.

Although it’s native to China, Taiwan, and the Philippines, this tree loves Oklahoma. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it naturalizes here some day.

Next is the Shumard Oak, one of the best red oaks ever for Green Country. It’s a pretty fast grower when young, and generally grows to about 40-feet tall. Given plenty of room, it can ultimately reach 60, even 80 feet or more. It maintains a pyramidal shape for many years, then spreads to form a broad, open crown. Its shiny, dark green leaves turn a reddish orange in fall. This tree is native to our area, in particular moist locations in low spots and along streams, lakes, and swamps. Thankfully, however, it adapts quite nicely to dry sites.

And last but hardly least is the Lacebark Elm. Another Chinese native that is perfectly at home in Oklahoma, this baby will grow to about 40 to 50 feet in as many years, but generally hovers around 25 to 30 feet in most landscapes. It’s a quick grower with small green leaves that turn yellow in fall. My favorite feature of this tree is its exfoliating or peeling bark, which flakes to reveal patches of gray, cream, orange, and brown.

Of course, there are lots of other trees to choose from, and I’ll feature three lesser-known choices next week. In the meantime, remember: If you’ve been contemplating a new tree on your property, the time to plant is now. 

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2 responses to “Three Tough and Terrific Trees”

  1. E Young says:

    Although I’m a relative newcomer to Oklahoma and Tulsa gardening, I’m surprised not to see Cladrastis kentukea or American Yellowood on this and more lists of recommended trees for the area. I’ve seen a long alley of the at the botanical garden in Oslo, but rarely see them here. A beautiful tree shape with a fragrant white bloom in spring and a crenellated leaf.

    • Paul James says:

      That’s a great question, because American Yellowood is a great tree. Problem is, it doesn’t sell, which means it’s rarely available from growers. I just chatted with our tree buyers and asked them to consider bringing in a few.