A tree poll!

I mentioned that one of the dignified trees in our yard was marked for death — we got the detailed diagnosis. It’s Dutch Elm disease. We have some guys coming by on Monday to hack it to death and haul away its dismembered limbs.

But it’s not all sad and grisly news. We’ve also talked to the city, and they’ve given us their list of trees to be planted around town this fall (the number is how many of each they have on hand), and we can get on the list and name a preference.

10) Accolade Elm
10) Acer Sienna Maple
5) Hackberry
5) Deborah Maple
5) Thornless Hawthorn
10) Cathedral Elm
5) Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac
10) Siouxland Poplar
5) Ironwood
5) Bur Oak
10) Northern Acclaim Locust
5) Silver Maple
5) Willow Weeping

We’re going to do some research ourselves, but I thought I’d be lazy and ask all of you readers — which ones do you like and why?


  1. says

    It’d be useful to know which kind of “ironwood” they’re talking about. There are a few species that go by that name, and one of them I would totally recommend, but I don’t think it gets that big, so it may not be what they’re offering.

    I like weeping willows, though I think they like to grow right near water, so I dunno if your yard would work for it.

    If it’s not the cool muscle-y ironwood, then I’d probably go for burr oak.

  2. Onamission5 says

    Are you looking for something which grows quickly as to fill in the space and provide shade, or something with slow growth and longevity? What’s the soil and water situation like in the planting spot?

    Weeping Willow is one of my absolute favorite trees, and they grow rather quickly, but are also water seeking so if you or the neighbors have any pipes through or near the area, it’s probably not a good choice. However, if you’ve issues with soggy soil it’s a very good pick!

  3. Chelydra says

    ‘Deborah’ is an invasive Norway maple. Hawthorn, tree lilac and ironwood are much smaller than the tree you’re losing. I’d personally go with the honeylocust, but it’ll be a silly thornless cultivar instead of one properly defended (with giant, branched trunk thorns) against Pleistocene megafauna. I vote hackberry!

  4. says

    Don’t get a maple. Maples are getting to be very common and, as a biologist, surely you know the value of having biodiversity. The arborist here in Cedar Rapids, IA, recommends against maples as 25% of our tree population is maple and the concern is this would make it easy for a maple disease or pest that becomes epidemic to wipe out all those trees, leaving the community with a greatly reduced tree population…much like what has been happening with ash trees and the ash borer beetle today in states east of here and what had happened with elms and Dutch elm disease however many years ago. (Apparently your tree survived that epidemic; sorry it eventually succumbed to the disease.)

  5. bcwebb says

    silver maple/swamp maples grow as fast as weeds, have nice shape and shade, survive storms pretty well but drop lots of big limbs in storm which grow back quickly – you don’t want them over your house unless you trim the unstable branches every year or so.

  6. killyosaur says

    I was gonna say maple because syrup, but Leo has convinced me otherwise. (I realize that it takes 50 years and careful cultivation and a lot more than one tree to produce maple syrup, but still…)

  7. ibbica says

    I’d vote ironwood, if they mean Ostrya virginia… Well, just because because I’m from southern Ontario originally and miss them especially, but also because you have to love a slowly growing, tough monster of a tree that outlives most of us… 100+ years :-)

  8. chigau (違う) says

    I just like oak.
    on that list, which ones actually belong there?
    pick one of those
    (you already knew that)

  9. says

    Confession: Every time I hear Dutch Elm disease I think of “My Best Friend Plank”. Please tell me someone knows what I’m talking about.

  10. unclefrogy says

    those are the trees that the city has on hand but I am sure there are other trees that would thrive in a yard in part of the country and might be available locally, like Ginko Biloba an ancient tree by any measure. maybe a dawn redwood another ancient one. I like to plant trees and plants with a story if I can. I am sure there are birches that might like your yard maybe as a clump.
    uncle frogy

  11. johnhattan says

    Hackberry? I always thought those weren’t all that desirable, at least here in Texas. Although I got a bunch of ’em on the property here, and they’re pretty hardy and fast-growing and non-messy, so I don’t have a problem with ’em.

  12. Eric O says

    I’m just going to second weeping willows. As for why… I’m sure there are good reasons involving climate and environment and all that. I just think they look nice, though. My grandmother had a weeping willow in her yard and I used to admire it as a kid.

  13. doctorb says

    I’m no help here.

    I had to give up my BS for a BA in biology because I didn’t want to take Botany or Vascular Plants.

  14. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I would recommend against maples. We have two types in our yard, and their weak spot is that they branch low and often, and rot can start at any of the branch points that will hold rainwater. Our big trees are held together with wires.

  15. numerobis says

    On the plus side, a hole that collects water will help provide habitat for your local arthropod.

    Wait, that might be a minus.

  16. numerobis says

    Given climate change, something that’s indigenous to your area is likely out of its range. Something local 500 miles south of you might be the ticket.

  17. says

    Also, if video games have taught me anything, just get two shovels and bury one for a few days to make a golden shovel, then use the golden shovel to plant a bag of money and grow a money tree!

  18. Rowan vet-tech says

    I would recommend against a redwoood. They actually have extremely shallow roots so in high winds they are extremely prone to falling over.

    I vote for the oak.

  19. Sven says

    I’ve got a locust tree, myself.
    PROS: Very resilient against weather. Hail, heavy snow, you-name-it and it’s fine.
    CONS: Those tiny leaves fall off in autumn, and then, if they get wet, they will stick to everything. EVERYTHING.

  20. Terska says

    Silver maples are fragile in thunderstorms. Huge branches break away and crush power lines, cars and homes. They are lovely when fully grown but I wouldn’t wan’t one near my house.

    Weeping willows are rather messy and require a big space to allow them to achieve their real beauty.

    Interesting that so many non natives are on the list. Pick a native tree will fit in the space.

  21. jstackpo says

    Tulip Poplars and Sumac fill up space around here (and suck up lots of CO(sub)2) but what does well in East coast Maryland probably won’t make it in the frozen tundra where you live (yet). I see they are not on your city list, no doubt for that reason. White spruce? Or some other evergreen?

  22. Menyambal says

    When I was a kid, we had a hackberry tree as our tree to play in. I don’t remember building any kind of treehouse, but I remember climbing all over it, and lounging on branches. It may be nostalgia, but that was a great tree. (It was also about 500 miles south of you, so global warming … .)

  23. procyon says

    Either the Accolade or the Cathedral Elm. Both are great shade trees. Both are Dutch Elm resistant. Neither are a cultivar or hybrid of the American Elm, devastated by DED, but never-the-less are very similar.Having introduced DED to North America, we humans owe it to Ulmus
    I planted a Liberty Elm, a somewhat DED resistant cultivar of U americana, some 20 years ago and it has grown into a beautiful, healthy tree. Like a huge umbrella.

  24. uusuzanne says

    I’d stay away from the Hackberry; they tend to be brittle. (Source: Had to have three removed from my yard.) Bur oak is native, at least here in northern IL, and should do well.

  25. chigau (違う) says

    That spot where the tree was.
    Make a raised bed and plant strawberries.
    (or some locally appropriate berry)
    You won’t regret it.

  26. tccc says

    Willows just make mess all year long, they drop a lot of leaves and small branches. And you have to maintain them several times a year as well or they will essentially cut off the entire area under where they grow by enclosing the area in branches that droop to the ground.

    I like a high canopy tree so you can use the yard under it and I do not want to have to clean up after it more than once a year.

  27. oldbird76 says

    Willows are messy as they break easily. Silver maples should be avoided, they get huge. All maples have problems with their roots hogging the surface. Hawthorne is a small tree much like a crabapple if that’s what you want. Oak takes a long time, a good choice if you can wait. Hackberry is an okay choice, looks a lot like an elm. Poplar is fast but it will get too big quickly.

  28. psanity says

    I vote for the Cathedral Elm, since I think we owe it to our lost elms to replace them with something as close as we can get to their majestic beauty. Second choice would be Weeping Willow, which grows well in Morris and will provide the next generation coming up with a comfortable and beloved friend that even a six-year-old can climb and sit in safely. And, they really are not messy, well, no messier than other deciduous trees.

    And I agree about passing on the maples. They’re lovely trees, but they tend to get around on their own quite a bit — at any given time, I have scores of baby ones in my yard. If you want cute green seeds to stick to your nose and forehead, I’m sure there’s a maple nearby.

    We’re in a much drier climate here, but our local nurseryman really loves honeylocusts, and has been trying to get the city to add them to the official street tree list (we’re allowed to plant trees in the boulevards, but they are technically city trees, so they have a list of what’s allowed).

  29. psanity says

    Oh, and not poplar. They grow fast and die young. Popular as windbreaks in Western MN, but you have to replant about every 20 years or so to keep a supply of new trees.

  30. Rich Woods says

    We plant trees for our grandchildren, not ourselves. Let that influence your choice.

  31. Anton Mates says

    All I know is every one of those names should be a character in a romance novel.

  32. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    Go for a Cathedral Elm and build a small sacrifical altar under it to mess with some heads. Or perhaps Ironwood. Sounds cool, like something from a bad fantasy novel.

  33. joehoffman says

    My hackberry trees are beautiful. Sometimes they drop a branch, because the previous owner never maintained them. The wood is beautiful, though, so I make things out of it. Burr Oak is good, too, and the nuts attract squirrels that keep the house pets amused. I second all of the above comments about Silver Maple. If you want zero trouble, go with the ironwood. Grows slow, and gets it right the first time.

  34. lijdare says

    If you want a maple get the Sienna, the Deborah is a Norway maple.

    Personally, I’d go with the oak. Never enough oaks in the world.

  35. Sastra says

    If you loved the elm, I vote for another elm.

    Otherwise, two considerations. What don’t you already have? And your age.

    Those who argue against fast-growing but fragile trees like silver maple or willow in favor of something sturdier like an oak may be forgetting that at 60 people don’t necessarily count on the luxury of having 3 or 4 decades to see the replacement for their old growth tree look like a replacement. Those huge limbs crashing down in a storm will likely be someone else’s problem … or yours only because you lived to a ripe old age. Win; win!

  36. jojo says

    I’m not a big fan of Honey Locusts because of the leaves. They get everywhere and stick to everything. I would have to sweep my front hallway every few days in the fall because of how successful they were at making it into the house.

    Our new house has a lot of oaks and I much prefer them. Not just because of how beautiful they are, but because they attract Blue Jays. Who doesn’t love some raucous blue jay shenanigans?

  37. Sastra says

    I personally love locust trees. The small leaves mean no raking in fall/spring, they have a beautiful silhouette, and they’re not as dense as most trees, so it’s easier to plant a garden or grow grass beneath one.

  38. machintelligence says

    Just a note about slow growing trees and your age. My great grandfather planted an orchard in his 70th year (much to the amusement of his neighbors.) He lived to be 94 and had many last laughs along with bushels of apples.
    Elm or oak strike me as good choices. Silver maple is one to avoid and locusts are OK except for the seed pods.

  39. Knabb says

    I tend to like willows, but that only really applies once they have already gotten big. Absent that, the hackberry seems like a better choice – it’s fairly fast growing, it’s a beautiful tree, and in my experience they resist wind pretty well.

  40. Donnie says

    My friend recommend researching on these two sites:


    Like everyone else, she needed to have more information on soil conditions, water. She plants trees as a volunteer for an east coast organization and planing trees is serious business . Initial recommendations without more information would be:

    1. Hackberry because strong, hardy and low maintenance
    2. Weeping Willow because pretty but need the right soil and water
    3. No to invasive trees like the Deborah Maple!

    She summed up her opinion much like others above:

    Smartest thing to do would engage in a little research and pick the “right tree for the right place”

    Hopefully, the links above will help PZ pick the right tree for the right place and provide lots of beauty for future generations :)

  41. Raucous Indignation says

    Bur Oak. It’s long lived and does well growing alone. Critters like the acorns. The trunks can become massive, that’ll get some carbon back in the ground.

  42. jeffj says

    There are a number of huge silver maples in our neighbourhood and they are magnificent. Lots are saying they don’t fare well in storms. We experienced hurricane Arthur a couple of years ago and a *lot* of big trees fell. I don’t recall seeing a silver maple among them. A lot of older elms and Manitoba maples were blown down. Just an anecdote.

    I’ve been told that willows have very far-reaching roots and can wreak havoc on house foundations.

    We have an old linden in our front yard that was also, sadly, marked for death. I’m considering a bur oak, mostly because both of our next door neighbours have them and they seem to be doing well.

  43. birgerjohansson says

    NB. A modest proposal:

    Get busy with CRISPR/Cas9 to make the trees proof against Dutch Elm Disease and the many, many other invasive species of fungal and viral pathogens who atttack forests. Andmake them proof to the many insect larvae that decimate forests now that the climate is warming.
    And if you make the roots more accessible for mycelial/mycorrhizal symbionts, it will improve their chances to survive things like drought.

  44. expatriarchy says

    I have worked for years as a garden designer and always try to educate people about avoiding invasive or poor quality trees. I also discourage choosing fast-growing cultivars that are promoted for all the wrong reason; they are usually very easily cultivated for sale, grow very fast, and have a short and messy lifespan. Trees that originated elsewhere, anything with “Asian” or “sinensis” or “Norway” etc. in its name, are selected and promoted for how many units can be sold, not whether it is a long-term ideal choice for its location. Remember that business needs rarely cohere with social good, or in this case environmental good. For example, nurseries in New England still sell non-native forsythia, barberries, burning bush and Norway maples, although they are rampantly invasive and do not support native insects or birds.

    All the trees on your ciity’s list are what I consider crap choices for different reasons, except for burr oak and cathedral elm. The elm however is a hybrid and we do not have certainty about their long-term viability. Burr oak’s fall color is nothing special compared to Red oaks. If you are open to funding the tree yourself, I highly recommend tupelo. It supports native insects and bears beautiful blue-black fruit, which is crucial to sustaining bird populations. It has great four season interest and beautiful branch structure, which is important for places with long winters. There are many species and cultivars of tupelo, depending on whether you have room for a majestic tree or need a smaller yard tree. ‘Afterburner’, ‘Red Red Wine’ and ‘Autumn Cascades’ are three that come to mind.

    Otherwise oaks in general are good choices as they sustain over 500 species of butterflies and moths. Consider Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) or White oak (Quercus alba). My favorite is Blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) but it needs a warmer zone than Morris MN. A great shorter tree choice (15-30′) is Viburnum prunifolium.

  45. fusilier says

    We call silver maples “dog maples” for a reason. They _are_ fast growing, and cheap to obtain, but they are brittle and have a fairly short life-span.

    Tulip trees are nice, but are much more drought-susceptible than most people realize. If you take good care of them, the flowers are amazing.

    I’d recommend an apple. You need to prune them carefully, but the flowers in spring are wonderful. If you don’t want to harvest, you can get sprays to prevent fruiting.

    YMMV, to be sure.

    James 2:24

  46. Petal to the Medal says

    If the Silver Maple is the same tree that I know as the Silver-Leaf Maple, it gets my vote. The way they seem to change colors when the wind blows makes a landscape more interesting.

  47. beeky says

    My take on the list based on a couple of years on my towns shade tree commission.

    Acer Sienna Maple – xFreemani hybrid (red maple x sugar maple). Excellent street and lawn tree. Beautiful fall foliage that I would describe as tawny-orange.

    Deborah Maple – originated as a seedling of hedge maple but is thought to be a hybrid of hedge maple and Norway maple. Nice street and lawn tree but unwanted seedlings may be a problem. New growth is red. Fades to green in heat of summer. Orange fall color.

    Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) – Trouble free (unless you are allergic to acorns) that gets very big, up to 100 feet. Excellent lawn tree but may be trouble if grown too near pavement or power lines.

    Hackberry – probably common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis. There are several superior clones but seed grown trees are acceptable. Tolerant of poor growing conditions. Somewhat Elm-like as mature trees.

    Accolade Elm – hybrid of two disease resistant Asian elms (u.japonica x U.wilsoniana). Nice tree but requires correct pruning when young to produce a symmetrical adult tree

    Cathedral Elm – hybrid of two disease resistant Asian elms (u. pumila x U.japonica). High resistance to Dutch Elm disease. Typical elm outline.

    Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata subsp. pekinensis) Small tree ~20-25 feet. Rated as one of the most trouble free Lilacs. Excellent lawn and street tree where small size is desirable.

    Siouxland Poplar (Populus deltoides) – disease resistant Cottonwood. Fast growing (2-3 feet/year), male clone (no seeds), pyramidal outline.

    Northern Acclaim Locust – disease resistant, seedless and thornless. The best of the locusts for street or lawn. No leaf raking required.

    Thornless Hawthorn – hard to tell what this is as there are several Hawthorns with few or no thorns. Disease prone and the dense canopy of foliage discourages lawn growth under the tree.

    Silver Maple – (Acer saccharinum) – not recommended. Open growth, copious seedlings, anemic fall color, lots of dropped branches. Beloved by nurserymen for its extremely rapid growth, up to three feet per year when young. Poor choice for either street or lawn.

    Willow Weeping (Salix babylonica) – not recommended. Roots clog sewer lines, shallow root system makes large trees very susceptible to being blown over by wind.

    I recommend _Manual of Woody Landscape Plants_ by Michael Dirr if you want more info.

  48. says

    Make sure the specific species is native and contributes to biodiversity and useful to wildlife in your habitat. Your DNR should have resources.

    Willow roots supposedly can destroy sewer pipes, but maybe only the older kind.

  49. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin suggests Roving Cheesefruit, which is more-or-less what it sounds like: The tree moves about, Ent-like, stomping on any nasty orcs, trolls, peas, and loud motorscooters(he mutters to himself as an exceptionally LOUD one revs and idles outside the window), and provides a tasty and varied collection of cheeses. You do have the age the cheeses, so you won’t really be able to enjoy the fruits for the first couple of centuries. Unlike a proper Ent, it doesn’t do any tree-herding, so don’t worry about the vegetation stampeding. Easy to care for, especially if you can supply a continuing diet of trolls, which does not seem like a problem… (Do not, however, try to make cidre from the fruits, unless you intend a personalised high-speed Pluto space mission.)

  50. says

    I love Oaks. They have very interesting shapes, live practically forever and attract a great number of birds and critters. The Bur is slow growing, around 12″/year, so if you’re in a hurry for a big tree, not so much. But it will be around long after you’re gone and continue give back to the environment for up to 200 years.

  51. Snidely W says

    First off, whoever is in charge of this list of tree options should be fired. Just sayin’.

    First cut the list down by getting rid of the non-natives, that also have trashy, high maintenance characteristics mentioned multiple times above:
    Accolade & Cathedral Elms, Sienna, Deborah & Silver Maples, and Weeping Willow. [Yeah, I know the Silver maple is a native but it sucks so bad as a landscape tree I’m lumping it here.] [Also, as a biologist if you choose the weeping willow you will be treated with a diversity of leaf-eating insects and tree fungi, so there is that. But you may have a greater interest in indulging the interests of other local organisms.]

    Thornless Hawthorn – Meh. See beeky’s remarks above.

    From your list, these are the only acceptable ones:
    Hackberry – Large. Small fruits for the local wildlife.
    Bur Oak – Large. Acorns for locals.
    Locust – Medium-large. No raking. No seed pods in this variety. Not much for the wildlife except canopy nest sites. Often has a pleasant fall yellow color.
    Ironwood – Small. Again, check which species they are talking about. If it is the “muscley” species, that’s great. A small, slow-growing tree with some “nuts” for the locals, and some individuals have an awesome yellow to orange fall color.
    Japanese Lilac – Small. The only non-native worth considering. Wonderfully fragrant creamy-white flowers come later than the more common garden lilacs. The leaves stay clean of insects (like lilacs generally) but don’t get that gray mildew later in the season (like common lilacs). Medium growth rate. The small size and the fragrant flowers make it suitable for a near-house location. Seedlings not a problem (unlike the maples and elms.)

    expatriarchy is mostly right about Tupelo. There is only one species in northern cultivation (Nyssa sylvatica – Black tupelo or black-gum) with multiple cultivars of that species. But it may be marginally hardy at best where you live. And it is an outstanding tree with four-season interest.

    Other native species may be suitable too, like any number of native conifers.

    And all of these that I have deemed ‘acceptable’ are relatively low maintenance. But no trees are completely “no-maintenance”.

    The Dirr manual mentioned above is THE best single source for info on woody plants. Well worth consulting. Bigger than most phone books.

  52. JustaTech says

    Going to STRONGLY disagree with unclefrogy @12 about the Ginko Biloba: If you end up with a tree that makes fruit your yard will smell like rotting vomit. My school had them lining the driveway where we all stood waiting for our carpools and it was disgusting.

  53. corwyn says

    Where is the tree going? How close to the house?
    What is the moisture level, drainage?
    How is the soil? pH? Nutrient levels?
    What are the other trees and plants nearby?
    What is the slope? Which way does it face?
    Climate? Microclimate?

    Thank you kindly.

  54. TGAP Dad says

    I recommend against silver maple – they aren’t particularly colorful, they have weak wood, and the branches can be a nuisance with their fast growth, long reach, and the “droop and swoop” style. I recommend against the weeping willow for ANY city or suburban setting, as the roots WILL get into any exterior buried plumbing, and quickly. They also aren’t particularly interesting from an ornamental perspective. Of the ones listed, I like the burr oak – a nice slow-growing hardwood of the white oak family which will grow straight and strong.

    Since you’re a biologist at a research institution, why not see if you can get a transgenic blight-resistant American chestnut? Although not yet available for nursery sales, I’d think you could find a loophole!

  55. inquisitiveraven says

    Gotta agree with JustaTech, except that I would have compared the smell to dog shit.

  56. chigau (違う) says

    I am willing to bet that you did not anticipate this kind of response.

  57. Blattafrax says

    Voting for elm. I remember them disappearing from England 30 years ago. Beautiful trees and replacing them is some sort of responsibility, even if we were not responsible for their demise.

  58. Karen Locke says

    I don’t have any experience with elm trees, but I’m a big fan of oaks. I live out west, so I’m only familiar with the western species. However, I have had great luck with an oak tree in my back yard, which Husband and I grew from an acorn we gathered in a local park. Oaks have a magnificent branching habit. The only caveat is that they dislike having their roots messed with; don’t plant one in the middle of a lawn. There are many oak-compatible plants out there if you want a groundcover around it.

  59. Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy says

    I’m fond of weeping willow, but they’re happiest near water, and if there isn’t a stream nearby the roots may go looking for pipes and damage them.

    What else is growing in your yard?

  60. Ceila Canth says

    I, a botanist and tree enthusiast, recommend asking your local extension office. Personally I love hackberry — great for birds and not so attractive to vermin as oaks are. Of course, a tree is an investment, and having space for one gives you an opportunity to choose a tree you LOVE. It may be worth it to buy one if you plan to look at it for the next 30 years.

    Definitely not a weeping willow. If you must have a willow, choose a less aggressive native. If you love the weeping look, try a more unusual and well-behaved tree like a weeping beech or a weeping redbud, although not sure if they like living in your area.