Virginia in spring is a joy for gardeners and nature lovers of all stripes. The Old Dominion is home to a wide variety of flowering trees thanks to our moderate climate and excellent growing conditions. Many of the well-known flowering trees are native to this region, including our state tree, the flowering dogwood. Many others were imported from other regions, particularly Asia, and have been cultivated here for centuries. Our guide to flowering trees in Virginia will introduce you to the most popular trees you will find in the Commonwealth as well as a few hidden gems that you may want to seek out.
The flowering dogwood (cornus florida) is the state flower and tree of Virginia. Flowering dogwood trees are native to the region and can be found in most East Coast locations. It is considered one of the most beautiful flowering trees native to North America. It is a small deciduous tree that generally grows to about 20-30 feet tall when mature. Its distinctive flowers have four large petals. White is the most common color for the flowers, but there are pink and red varieties as well.
The kousa dogwood (cornus kousa), a cousin of our state tree, is native to Asia, but has been found to thrive in Virginia and similar climates. The kousa variety is also less vulnerable to certain leaf diseases that may afflict flowering dogwoods. Kousa flowers are very similar to those of the flowering dogwood, however there are some differences. Kousa dogwoods bloom somewhat later in the year, and their petals are pointed rather than rounded.
There are several types of magnolia trees that thrive in Virginia. The prototypical tree that most people think of when they picture Southern magnolias is an evergreen variety (magnolia grandiflora). This tree boasts dense foliage with broad, shiny leaves and large white flowers. Southern magnolias can grow to be up to 80 feet tall.
Another evergreen variety is the Sweet Bay magnolia (magnolia virginiana). This variety can grow to between 30 and 50 feet tall, depending on the climate. The leaves of this variety are still large, but not quite as thick or dense as the Southern magnolia. Sweet Bay magnolias also have beautiful, large white flowers, which are prized for their sweet, lemony scent.
A popular deciduous magnolia variety is the star magnolia (magnolia stellata), which is native to Japan. Star magnolias bloom in early spring and have large, pink blossoms with long, thin petals. Other deciduous magnolias that you may see in Virginia include the bigleaf magnolia (magnolia macrophylla) and the cucumber tree (magnolia acuminata).
The crape myrtle (lagerstroemia) is another flowering tree well known in the South. This genus is native to Southeast Asia and thrives in warm climates. Crape myrtles are known for their delicate and brightly colored flowers that bloom in the summer. These flowers can be many shades, especially pink, red, and purple. These trees are desirable as they bloom for a long time, giving attractive color to any landscape.
The Eastern redbud (cercis canadensis) is another tree famed for its pink and red flowers. This species is native to eastern North America and grows well in Virginia’s temperate climate. Eastern redbuds grow to approximately 30 feet in height and have dark, smooth bark and long, thin branches. The flowers bloom in late spring or early summer and range in color from light pink to deep magenta.
The American linden tree (tilia americana) is native to the eastern half of North America and has been cultivated here since the eighteenth century. It has delicate yellow flowers that have a sweet fragrance and are a favorite of honeybees. The American linden also has other useful qualities. The leaves are edible and have been used as a food source for both humans and livestock. The fibrous inner bark was historically used to make ropes and cords. And the tree’s attractive white wood is often used to construct beehives and other structures.
The flowering cherry tree (prunus serrulata) is native to Japan, but grows in moderate climates all over the world. It is perhaps one of the best-known flowering trees and is the subject of many cherry blossom festivals. The flowering cherry was, as the name suggests, bred for its flowers. While some trees do produce small cherries, many do not. The beautiful pink flowers that bloom for only a short time in the spring are what draw people to this tree.
The Cornelian cherry tree (cornus mas) is actually a species of dogwood. This small tree has many thin branching limbs and typically grows to be 15-25 feet tall. It has small yellow flowers bloom densely on the branches in spring. The tree bears small cherry fruit in midsummer, which can be used for preserves.
There are several varieties of crabapple trees (malus), which are typically cultivated for their brilliant blooms. Crabapple trees generally have showy red, pink, or white flowers that add wonderful color to any landscape. Some varieties include the Adams Crabapple (malus adams), Cardinal Crabapple (malus cardinal), and Dolgo Crabapple (malus dolgo).
The Virginia Crabapple (malus domestica), also known as the Hewes Crabapple, is believed to have been cultivated in eighteenth century Virginia. This variety of crabapple is grown mainly for cider production, but it boasts beautiful white flowers as well.
The flowering plum tree (prunus cerasifera) is another tree native to Asia that grows well in the Virginia climate. They bloom with a proliferation of pink blooms, generally in early spring, although the timing can vary based on the weather. Some varieties of the flowering plum also have purple leaves, which make it a doubly attractive ornamental tree.
The serviceberry tree (amelanchier arborea) is a popular ornamental tree that provides beauty in almost every season. Its white flowers in spring resemble clouds or snow. These give way to red or purple edible berries in summer, followed by brilliant scarlet leaves in the fall. The serviceberry usually grows to be about 15-25 feet tall
The goldenrain tree (koelreuteria paniculata) is native to Asia and was introduced to North America in the eighteenth century. It is named for its small, yellow flowers, which grow in cascading bunches. These trees bloom in early summer, making them a good complement to other, earlier blooming trees. Later in the season, it is also recognizable by its large seed pods.
The Japanese snowbell tree (styrax japonicas) is another in the collection of flowering trees native to Asia that have spread to North America and other regions due to their rare beauty. The Japanese snowbell is a slow-growing tree that forms a shady canopy when mature. Its white, bell-shaped flowers, which typically bloom in April, inspired its name.
The American yellowwood tree (cladrastis kentukea) is less commonly found than many on this list. It is native to the American southeast, but is rarely seen in the wild. Despite its relative rarity, the yellowwood is an excellent choice for an ornamental flowering tree. Its drooping clusters of white flowers are truly striking against its deep green leaves. It also offers attractive fall foliage, with leaves that turn bright yellow.
The fringe tree (chionanthus virginicus) is another native flowering tree is somewhat less common, although it is easy to cultivate and grows well in our climate. Its white flowers are quite different to most other flowering trees. They have long, thin petals that give the blooms an almost fluffy appearance. It is also colloquially known as old man’s beard. In addition to its unique flowers, the fringe tree boasts stunning yellow leaves in autumn.
The tulip poplar tree (liriodendron tulipifera) is a close cousin to the magnolia family. It is a hardwood tree native to North America, and is one of the taller flowering trees, reaching heights of 70 to 90 feet or more. Despite the name, the tulip poplar is not related to the tulip at all. It was named for the shape of its flowers, which bear some resemblance to tulip flowers. These unique blossoms are green, orange, and yellow and bloom in late spring.
The hawthorn tree (crataegus) features in Celtic and European folklore, and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It is an attractive tree with a generally pleasing shape, making it a good choice for many landscapes. There are several different varieties of hawthorn, which may have either white or red flowers. The flowers have five petals and bloom in small clusters. Although most varieties of hawthorns do have thorns on their branches, they are quite beautiful ornamental or trees.
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