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Four Rivers Environmental Coalition: plant native trees

July 1, 1993

As homeowners replace storm-damaged trees, the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition encourages them to plant trees that are native to our area. Native trees are better for our environment, are better adapted to our climate and soil, and can save homeowners money in the long run.

The advantage of using trees that are native to our area is that they evolved over thousands of years to survive our weather and soil conditions. Natives survive drought, severe winters, and ice storms very well. Non-natives are more susceptible to diseases and insect damage and require more care. When homeowners invest in natives, they can expect a better return on their investment because the trees will live longer and are more economical to maintain. Native trees require less maintenance, do not need pesticides or fertilizers, and generally do not require watering once established. In most cases, native trees perform just as well as non-native species and will provide the same fall color, shape and form. And natives are much better for wildlife, providing food and shelter for birds, bees, and butterflies.

The City of Rockford has an ordinance on planting trees on boulevards that includes several native species. However, they also allow many undesirable non-native trees that are troublesome. Homeowners can plant a wider variety of species in their own yards.

Among the smaller native trees are:

n Serviceberry in tree form (Amelanchier species)

n Iowa or Prairie crabapple (Malus ioensis)

n American plum (Prunus americana)

nAmerican hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)

Medium-sized trees include:

n Green ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica), the most common street tree in America

n Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

n Linden or Basswood (Tilia americana)

Larger native trees include seven varieties of oaks, with at least one that is suitable for homeowners’ soil and moisture conditions. Contrary to belief, many oaks grow faster than other trees.

n Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

n White oak (Quercus alba)

n Black oak (Quercus velutina)

n Northern red oak (Quercus ruba)

n Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)

In the maple family is:

n Black maple (Acer nigrum) that survives drought better than Sugar maple

n Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) if it is planted in a moister site

It is important that when people purchase native plants that they check the botanical name and ensure that it is not a cultivar of a native species. Cultivars do not have the same qualities that the true natives have. Homeowners should also select trees suitable for their soil and water conditions, and the amount of sunlight the site receives.

The Four Rivers Environmental Coalition is a regional initiative that creates a voluntary network of independent agencies and organizations that share a common goal of environmental protection, education and advocacy.

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