Blog Post By Jona Elwell

Non Native Trees that Enhance Our Urban Forest

While we discussed the scourge of some non-native trees, there are others that, while they aren’t originally from here, enhance our urban forest. Ultimately an urban environment is an unnatural place for a tree, so any tree that will thrive is the best tree for an urban forest. For example, the above photo is from our Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens Community Tree Planting on Arbor Day, where the park’s canopy has been decimated by emerald ash borer. We’re working with them to replenish their canopy with a mix of native and non-native plants to ensure the trees are able to survive the wet, marshy conditions of the landscape.


Pistacia chinensis

Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)  
Known as the “Ugly Duckling” of the tree world, the Chinese Pistache starts out as an unattractive and misshapen young tree but grows into a magnificent specimen. The Chinese Pistache offers a spectacular fall color display of scarlet, orange, and yellow. Better yet? It doesn’t get too tall, grows in almost any well-drained soil, grows quickly, and tolerates heat and drought. A native of China, the Chinese Pistache is a cousin of the pistachio tree that gives us those delicious nuts. You can also get up to $50 back for planting this tree yourself through our tree rebate program.


Corcoran Street NW ginkgoes in fall.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
The ginkgo tree is known for a lot of things – its fan-shaped leaves, its age, and the unfortunate smell of the fruit that female trees produce and subsequently shed. Even though they stink, Ginkgo trees are uniquely suited to survive harsh city life – not only can they hold their own against air pollution, but they stand strong in the face of soil compaction, pests, disease, salt, wind, cold, drought, fire, and even nuclear blasts. The Ginkgo tree is a living fossil, with the earliest leaf fossils dating from 270 million years ago. It was rediscovered in 1691 in China and was brought to this country in the late 1700s. You can get up to $50 back for planting this tree yourself through our tree rebate program.


The mature bark of a Zelkova.

Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)

Offering dense shade and tolerant of wind, drought, and air pollution, it makes sense as to why the Zelkova is a welcome foreign friend. While the name suggests a singular place of origin, these trees are native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Machuria. Introduced in the states in 1862, the zelkova was commonly used in many cities as a replacement for the American elm when it was ravaged by disease in the 1950s. It has an appealing vase-shaped form with a rounded crown and green leaves turn yellow, copper, orange or deep red to purplish-red in fall, putting on a showy display. The peeling bark on older trees exposes orange patches, which can be quite impressive. You can get up to $50 back for planting this tree yourself through our tree rebate program.


The unique bark of the London Planetree.

London Planetree (Platanus x acerifolia)
The London plane, a cross between the American sycamore and the English Oriental plane, is the king of street trees. It is the world’s favorite urban tree because it is tall, big-leafed, hardy and long-lived. Although with their peeling bark they  may get a bit messy, London planes are by far the most common tree in London, Paris, Rome, and New York City thanks to their unparalleled ability to filter air pollutants and withstand pollution and drought. This tree is available through our residential planting program, RiverSmart Homes. You can also get up to $50 back for planting this tree yourself through our tree rebate program.


With blueish leaves and striking cones, the Deodar Cedar is definitely an underrated and attractive tree.

Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara)

This cedar’s name, Deodar, derives from Sanskrit that translates to “timber of the gods.” The tree is native to the Himalayas, where it has been known to reach 250′ tall. It was introduced to Europe in 1822 and to the United States nine years later.  Woody plant expert and horticulturist Michael Dirr called the deodar “the most graceful cedar” for good reason. The tree is desired for its tall silhouette and gently drooping branches. The quick growing and dense canopy is ideal for natural wind breaks, and can also house a number of small animals and birds.  You can get up to $50 back for planting this tree yourself through our tree rebate program.

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