We are definitely very fortunate in western North Carolina to have such a wide variety of trees in our forests. You can find trees here that also grow in Florida, the Midwest and even Canada. Our climate, soils and growing season allow trees from many different regions to grow well here. The U. S. Forest Service report called the “Check List of Native and Naturalized Trees” says there may be more than 865 different species of trees in the United States. Let’s look at the 10 most common native tree species in the U. S. based on several Federal surveys of tree stem count.
# 10 White oak. Considered the most majestic tree of the eastern hardwoods, it is also touted as having the best all-purpose wood. Acorns are a very valuable source of wildlife food. More than 180 different kinds of birds and mammals use oak acorns as food. The wood is used for many products including furniture, flooring, doors, kitchen cabinets, paneling, baskets and barrels.
#9 Lodgepole pine. This tree is found in the western United States. Lodgepole pine provides many acres of wildlife habitat and is important to local communities throughout the West. The wood is used for framing, paneling, posts, utility poles, railroad ties, and pulpwood. Lodgepole pine is an important timber species and also a major tree in many scenic and recreational areas.
#8 Flowering dogwood. This important native tree showcases our state flower every spring. Some consider it the “queen” of North American forests because of its graceful branching, beautiful and unique blossoms, red berries loved by wildlife and unforgettable red fall foliage. It is one of the best landscape trees to use in our area. The wood was used in the manufacture of shuttles for textile weaving.
#7 Balsam fir. Balsam fir is one of the most cold hardy and aromatic of all fir trees. It grows well in the Canadian cold, but is also comfortable when planted in some parts of eastern North America. It is one of America’s most popular Christmas trees. Fraser fir, another important Christmas tree grown in our area is closely related to balsam fir.
#6 Sugar maple. Sugar maple is not just a northern U.S. tree. You can find sugar maple from Florida to Maine. The leaf is memorialized on Canada’s flag and sugar maple tree sap is the backbone of Vermont’s syrup industry. The beautiful orange fall color makes this tree a favorite for landscapes. The wood (called hard maple) is valuable and used for flooring, furniture, paneling, gymnasium floors, butchers blocks and many other products.
#5 Quaking aspen. This tree gets its name from the leaves which flutter in the breeze. Aspen trees are the most visible of western North American hardwoods providing biodiversity, wildlife habitat, livestock forage, specialty forest products, and highly desirable scenery. The brilliant yellow fall color can be striking. The wood is used for furniture parts, doors, kitchen utensils, matchsticks and chopsticks.
#4 Douglas-fir. The tree is one of the dominant trees in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and up the slopes to medium altitudes. It has been transplanted successfully throughout most of the North American temperate zone. It is used for structural lumber, paneling and decking. It is also one of the most commonly marketed Christmas tree species in the United States.
#3 Sweetgum. This tree is easy to identify in both summer and in winter. Look for the star-shaped leaf as foliage grows in the spring and look for the dried “spiked” seed balls under the tree in winter. The wood is used for furniture, paper pulp, veneers and baskets of all kinds.
#2 Loblolly pine. This pine is the most commercially important pine of the Southeast where it is dominant on approximately 29 million acres and makes up over one-half the standing pine volume. It does not grow naturally in western North Carolina because it cannot survive the effects of cold winters. The wood is used for lumber and pulpwood.
And the #1 most common tree in the U.S. is: Red maple. This maple is adaptable to a very wide range of site conditions, perhaps more so than any other tree in North America. It can be found growing in swamps, on poor dry soils, and most anywhere in between. Elevation is also not a limiting factor in its range, as it grows well from sea level to about 3,000 ft. Due to its attractive red fall color and pleasing form, it is often used as a shade tree for landscapes. It is used commercially on a small scale for maple syrup production as well as for its wood (called soft maple) used for medium quality lumber.