By Brad Priest, Designer at DG2 Design


The beauty of trees is often under-appreciated, and those few trees who are indeed valued for their aesthetic beauty are frequently over-used in designed landscapes across America. The list below is meant to celebrate some of the lesser-used tree species that can hold their own as specimens in any park, garden or plaza around.


PAPERBARK MAPLE (Acer griseum)

When it comes to unique ornamental value, few trees can rival that of the Paperbark Maple. This tree exfoliates thin, almost translucent sheets of bark that hang on throughout the year and reveal a dark rosy brown trunk beneath. The fall color is also typically strong, varying from vibrant deep reds to orange shades. This small tree only grows to about 20’H x 20’W, and makes a great specimen in small spaces and residential settings.


KATSURATREE (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)

The Katsuratree is a particularly elegant tree, often noted for its pleasant form, and especially for its interesting foliage. Small, tidy heart-shaped leaves offer a wide range of colors throughout the year, often emerging in purple or maroon hues in the spring, maturing to bluish-green in the summer, and changing to intense yellow-orange to apricot shades in the fall. One of the most striking features of this tree are the actual fallen leaves, which briefly give off a distinct spicy-sweet aroma reminiscent of cinnamon-sugar or ripe apples. The Katsuratree is a small to medium shade tree, typically growing to 40’H x 30’W. It looks great as a specimen in many settings.


WHITE FRINGE TREE (Chionanthus virginicus)

The White Fringe Tree makes a name for itself in the spring, when in full bloom it billows with a profusion of bright white, delicate flowers that shine against the blue skies and fresh greenery of spring. This large shrub / small tree grows to about 15’H x 15’W and makes for a beautiful specimen in garden settings. The White Fringe Tree also attracts wildlife when in fruit, and provides good yellow fall color.


YELLOWWOOD (Cladrastis kentukea)

The Yellowwood is a true multi-season performer, making it an ideal candidate as a specimen tree. Spring time finds this tree covered in large, drooping white/pink flower clusters that are very fragrant, almost perfume-like. In the summer time, interesting compound leaf structures provide unique visual textures in the landscape. Outstanding yellow color and significant seed pods are prominent in the fall, and in the winter time unique branching patterns emerge, which are often strongly horizontal in more mature trees. The Yellowwood is a somewhat low, wide tree, usually reaching a size of about 30’H x 40’W in cultivated landscapes.


SOURWOOD (Oxydendrum arboreum)

The Sourwood is a narrow, somewhat unevenly formed small tree that works great as a specimen for informal or naturalized settings. Early summer blooms of white flowers appear on narrow panicles, attracting bees who, in turn make delicious Sourwood honey from its nectar. Vibrant color appears in the fall, as the leaves transform into brilliant shades of red and orange. Further, its seed capsules persist into the winter, providing interest beyond the growing season. This tree normally grows to only about 20’H x 15’W in cultivation, though it can grow much larger in the wild.

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