31 Trees That Grow Well in any Tennessee Home or Garden Space

If you live in Tennessee, you have some growing conditions that are a bit more favorable than many northern states. This means when it comes to planting trees, you have plenty of options from fruit trees, to ornamentals. In this article, we look at our favorite trees for Tennessee homes and garden spaces!

Tennessee Dogwood Tree in Yard

Trees in Tennessee are unique compared to foliage other states have to offer. This comprehensive guide is for you if you’re interested in Tennessee trees. Doesn’t matter where you are thinking about planting them, we have it covered from native species to popular ornamentals for your yard or garden.

We’ll discuss the volunteer state’s common species in terms of where they grow, what climates they prefer, and physical features such as the color and dimensions of their leaves, bark, and overall shapes.

By the end of this guide, you’ll not only have a better fundamental understanding of Tennessee trees and how they are unique, but you’ll be well-equipped to identify even the more obscure species. Let’s get started!

American Beech

tall trees in forest with bright yellow and orange leaves
These giants can reach of height of over 100 feet tall.
Scientific name: Fagus grandifolia

The American beech is a deciduous slowing-growing tree that can grow to over 100 feet in height. It’s found mainly in moist areas like hollows and slopes. It has smooth gray bark that doesn’t peel. The American beech has smooth gray bark, and is considered a hardwood tree. It grows dense foliage that turns to a lighter tan color after experiencing ice and winter weather. It produces very little undergrowth.

The twigs have a distinct zigzag shape and long thin buds. The leaves the American beech produces are approximately three to five inches in length, oblong with toothed edges and a pointed tip. The veins stand out along the bottom of the leaf and are straight.

American Elm

This tree can thrive in many different climates.
Scientific name: Ulmus americana

American elms, in appearance, can be identified by having four or fewer primary limbs that grow straight up from the trunk arch and terminate into clusters of fine branches. Its shape is most distinct in winter months when the tree’s overall v-shape and distinct branches and twigs can be seen clearly.

The American elm grows in a variety of climates, including cold, dry, warm, and humid. Its leaves grow to three to seven inches in length, have an oval shape, and have fine-toothed edges. The American elm can be distinguished from the slippery elm by examining its leaves. The American elms are smooth, whereas the slippery elm produces leaves with rough surface texture.

Ash

tree with long yellow leaves
These trees will grow best in dry, well-drained soil.
Scientific name: Fraxinus pennsylvanica

The green ash and the white ash are the two most common ash species found in Tennessee. Green ash trees are more commonly found in wet climates, and white ash does better in dry, well-drained areas.

Ash trees range from gray to light tan in color. Their crumbly bark is typically rough, tight, and makes a connected diamond pattern. Underneath the outer bark bark, the inner bark is lighter in color. Branches terminate in large blunt ends, which makes the ash often misidentified as a boxelder.

The leaves of an ash tree grow between nine and twelve inches in length on either side of branches. Similar to the growth of the leaves, the branches grow on either side in an alternating pattern along with the limbs.

Green ash trees can be distinguished from white ash by the large bud found in between twigs and leaves. On the white ash, the bug is much smaller and often not visible.

Bald Cypress

big trees with thick rooted trunks growing in water edge
The bald cypress can grow in dry ares but will also do well in wet ares even standing water.
Scientific name: Taxodium distichum

Bald cypress, like elms, is most easily distinguished during the winter months for its shape and where it likes to grow. Its knobby projections, or knees, can be seen growing from dry or wet terrain such as standing water. However, bald cypress can be found in dry, well-drained sites.

Additionally, bald cypress drops needles during winter, making it resemble a dead cedar.

Young bald cypresses are shorter, thinner, and red-brown branches extend both low and high on the tree. The overall shape can resemble a cone as it tapers upward. The twigs along the branches showcase hard round leaf buds and leaf scars.

The larger bald cypresses flourish outward at the base, lose many of the low-hanging branches, and develop flat “knees” around the root zone. The bark is thinner and red-brown but thickens with age.

Black Oak

big tree with big green canopy of leaves
These trees need full sun to reach their full potential.
Scientific name: Quercus velutina

Both the black and the Shumard oak are part of the red oak family. Bark and shape are extremely similar. To accurately distinguish between the two, often the inner bark must be observed. This inner bark is yellow, sometimes orange, and bitter in flavor.

The Shumard’s inner bark is browner in color. However, the bark on both trees is hardy, tight, very coarse, and dark gray. The black oak and the Shumard oak can grow to great sizes with powerful limbs.

Black Walnut

tree with long green leaves and green nuts
The distinct smell of these trees will help decipher what they are.
Scientific name: Juglans nigra

The black walnut tree can be identified by its dark coloration, rough-looking soft bark, and for having a relatively low number of limbs. The limbs and overall shape give the black walnut a sturdy appearance. The inner bark is a rich brown and gives off a smell distinct to the black walnut.

Leaves on the black walnut are one to two inches long, two to four inches wide, are ridged with teeth, sharp, and pointy. The leaflets are often missing from the ends.

Boxelder

mix of big leaves and fork shaped leaves on tree
These trees will have an average lifespan of around sixty to seventy five years.
Scientific name: Acer negundo

The boxelder is common in most urban areas, medium in size, round, and often forked in shape. The boxelder’s brittle composition often results in broken top branches. Long slender sprouts are green in color and grow in clusters or clumps on the trunk and larger limbs.

The boxelder’s sprouts, unlike other species, do not have a rough exterior bark on the stem. It’s similar in appearance to ash and can be challenging to identify during winter months when observing only the bark. Branches grow in an alternating pattern opposite each other.

The leaves come in several different shapes, are toothed, and jut outward. The tree has long thin green twigs.

Chestnut Oak

large tree trunk with deep cracks and crevasses
The deep cracks and carved like trunk will help determine what these trees are.
Scientific name: Quercus prinus

The chestnut oak favors dry areas like slopes and ridges. It’s part of the white oak family and can grow to be very large and wide with expansive top limbs. The chestnut oak can be identified by its bark, which appears carved and fissured into channels everywhere along the trunk as if the tree was cracking and breaking as it grew.

The tree’s color ranges from gray, silver, charcoal, and brown. Its plain leaves are typically rounded at the tips, oblong in shape, toothed, and five to 9 inches in length. Additionally, the leaves are glossy, light green, and soft, almost fuzzy, underneath.

Eastern Redcedar

row of tall dark green bushy trees
These trees look beautiful lining a street or small road.
Scientific name: Juniperus virginiana

The Eastern redcedar is a medium-sized evergreen species. The bark is a light silvery brown that comes off in thin strips. The tree has thick foliage with light green to yellow scale-type leaves. The inner bark has a distinct cedar scent.

Additionally, the eastern redcedar has smaller leaves than other cedar species. The leaves are grown on four sides of the twigs and range from the normal yellow or green colors to blue.

Flowering Dogwood

These trees are relatively small make make a big impact with their beautiful blooms.
Scientific name: Cornus florida

The flowering dogwood is a small-sized flowering tree that rarely grows over twenty feet high. Its trunk typically is under six inches in diameter. The top, or crown, stops short and flat. The trunk crooks instead of running straight with dark brown to tan bark.

Additionally, the bark appears in a block-like pattern. In winter months, large flat buds grow in an X-like design that is connected to the ends of the branches.

This tree is well known for its white flowers that bloom during spring. The flowers themselves are small with four large white petals. During the fall months, leaves and berries change to red. Some varieties of dogwood trees can also have lavender flowers.

Leaves range in color as well, from dark to yellow and green. They’re oblong in shape, broad, round, three to five inches in length, and two to three inches in width. The edges are smooth, somewhat round, and have pointed tips. The leaves’ veins sweep and curve upward from the center to the outer edges.

Hackberry

tree with light green leaves and brown berries
These trees grow well in shallow limestone which is very common to find in Tennessee.
Scientific name: Celtis laevigata

The hackberry tree, similar to the sugarberry, is medium-large in size and likes to grow in rows. In terms of soil, they can be found in shallow limestone. Their gray coloration is similar to that of the aforementioned American beech that’s smooth in texture.

However, a key difference is the hackberry’s warts, which are protrusions that grow in clusters randomly along the trunk and branches—each twisted protrusion measures one-fourth to one-third inches tall and one-fourth inches in length.

Nest-like gatherings of twigs are another distinguishing characteristic that typically forms where the branches terminate.

The hackberry’s leaves are light green, spear-shaped, two to four inches in length, and one to two inches in width. The edges are smooth and toothed.

Sugarberry leaves are similar but can be identified by a total lack of teeth or, if toothed, does not run the full length of the leaf.

Hemlock

green bushy tree sloped over with spikey leaves
These trees tend to be more popular on the eastern side of Tennessee.
Scientific name: Tsuga canadensis

The hemlock tree grows in the eastern part of the state, which is why it is often referred to as the eastern hemlock. It’s an evergreen species whose leaves maintain their hue all year. Limbs lower on the trunk tend to droop flat to the ground in layers and bend back upwards where the branches terminate.

Its needles are three-fourth inches in length, flat, blunted at the ends, and are striped blue near the bottom. Hemlocks can be found almost exclusively in drained, moist areas like low drainages and slopes.

The eastern hemlock is the most common species in Tennessee. However, the Carolina hemlock is also prevalent in the state. To distinguish between the two, the characteristics of the needles can be observed. The eastern hemlock’s needles run fat but grow outwards in every direction with the Carolina hemlock.

Hickory

yellow spotted leaves on dark brown tree
This particular type of tree comprises of eighteen different species, twelve of which are native to the United States.
Scientific name: Carya (genus)

Certain species of the hickory group, due to their tight gray bark, can be challenging to identify in the winter months. The design of the bark is often crisscrossed in X-like patterns, furrowed from smooth to rough ridges. These ridges often crack and break the bark into sections that run horizontally across the tree.

While appearing brittle, the bark is hardy and can resemble the texture of steel with occasional silver specks.

The smaller-growing hickory trees tend to keep short limbs that protrude from the trunk at right angles. Taller hickory tree limbs have strong long limbs that can fork and reach upwards. The branches are typically short and have a wavy shape.

Hickory leaves are compound with an alternating arrangement. Leaves are eight to fourteen inches in length, finely toothed, and range from yellow to green in color.

Loblolly Pine

tree branches with clusters of long pine needles and pine cones at the ends
These trees will grow fast, around 24″ per year and have been know to live around 275 years.
Scientific name: Pinus taeda

The loblolly pine is considered a southern yellow pine tree that can be found throughout the state of Tennessee. Although most commonly found growing in plantations, they can be found growing in more random disbursements in wild stands.

Loblolly pines have tall, streamlined trunks. They can be identified by their bark which is dark in color, thick, and rectangular. Additionally, they feature pine needles that grow in ball-like clusters or tufts toward the crown at the ends of the branches.

The needles are five to nine inches in length and very pliant when compared to other pine needles. Doubling them over should not result in breaking with the loblolly pine needles. The pine cones, or burrs, grow three to five inches in length with curved spikes.

Locust

large tree with green leaves and white flowers on it
These trees will grow long thick thorns on their trunks and twigs.
Scientific name: Robinia pseudoacacia

The black locust tree is light brown and can be identified by its bark, described as rope-like with thorns. Additionally, thorns can be found on the twigs and leaves. The thorns measure a half-inch in length.

Alternatively, the honey locust has flat scaley bark with much larger horns that can grow up to four inches in length with additional spiky protrusions.

The black locust has compound leaves, while the honey locust has doubly compound leaves. Each grows eight to fourteen inches in length and one-fourth to half an inch in width and is rounded on either end.

Northern Red Oak

large tree with bright red leaves
These trees are very strong trees and can live up to be around 200 years old.
Scientific name: Quercus rubra

The northern red oak is a very large well-pruned tree. The limbs are strong and spread out. The bark is dark gray with long valleys up and down the tree. Additionally, the bark can be concave, silvery, and plated in shape and appearance.

The northern red oak is often misidentified as the scarlet oak. However, the northern red oak is typically larger, better pruned, has an overall sound structure, and its sap has no scent.

The Leaves are five to nine inches in length, three to five inches in width, sprout on alternate sides of the twigs and contain divisions or lobes. The lobs are toothed, bristled, and sturdy. The color is green on top and lighter underneath. They can turn a bright red during the winter months.

Red Maple

red wet leaves with five points on a tree branch in the woods
This tree is one of the most common trees in the eastern and central parts of America.
Scientific name: Acer rubrum

The red maple tree is difficult to identify due to how it changes in features and appearance as it grows. The bark is gray and very smooth when the tree is young. As it grows larger, the bark becomes heavier and thicker near the bottom of the trunk. The thick chunky bark coats the entire trunk and extends to the limbs as the tree matures.

Small protrusions, or pimples, can be found along with the bark when it’s smooth. Younger thinner branches terminate to a vibrant red.

The red maple’s leaves are two to four inches in length and width. It typically has three lobes with jagged edges and a V-shaped notch.

Sassafras

green gold and orange mitten shaped leaves on tree
These trees will do well in full or partial sun and will live to be around 100 years old.
Scientific name: Sassafras albidum

The Sassafras tree has thick rough bark that ranges from reddish to silvery. It’s commonly confused with other species, such as the black walnut. Sassafras inner bark is orange in color and has a distinctive aroma reminiscent of root beer.

The twigs are vibrant green in color and delicate. Sassafras limbs twist and cluster as they form the tree’s crown. The leaves vary. Some are three to five inches in length and may have lobs. The edges run smooth and resemble mittens.

Scarlet Oak

long tree branch with red leaves hanging from it
This tree is named after its beautiful red canopy of leaves.
Scientific name: Quercus coccinea

The scarlet oak is a member of the red oak family. It doesn’t exhibit the same well-formed shape as the northern red oak. The scarlet oak typically has dead or dying branches that protrude from the trunk with a warped base.

The tree’s tight dark gray bark runs in silver strips along the trunk from base to crown. The inner bark is pink, and the sap has a distinctive sharp smell.

The scarlet oak leaves are three to six inches in length, two to four inches in width, oval-shaped, lobed, bristle-tipped, and have a distinct cut-like appearance. The leaves change to bright scarlet during the autumn months.

Shortleaf Pine

small spikey pine cone with long pine needles on branch
These trees are slow growers but can live to be around 140 years old.
Scientific name: Pinus echinata

The shortleaf pine grows independently mixed in with other hardwood species. It grows tall, is brown, and has plate-like bark along a well-pruned trunk. Its crown is clumped with dense foliage that allows sunlight through.

Shortleaf pines can be identified by small pockets, resembling craters, that form on the bark. The tree’s cones grow one and a half to two and a half inches in length, are prickly, and bunch along with the twigs.

The thin, flexible needles are three to five inches in length and deep green. They form in bundles near the crown.

Sourwood

tree with long orange leaf clusters with bunches of white blooms on it
The wood from this tree is durable and sturdy and has been used to make handles for tools and other machinery.
Scientific name: Oxydendrum arboreum

Sourwood trees are typically small, growing to ten inches in diameter or less, and about three to four feet high. The bark grows in thick chunks and is silvery to reddish. Sourwood trunks curve and bend at the crown. Occasionally, delicate fruit capsules can be found hanging from the tips of the branches.

During the tree’s first year of growing, its twigs are sturdy, straight, and vibrant red. The Leaves measure five to seven inches in length and one to three inches in width. They’re toothed, grow on alternate sides of the twigs, and sour to the taste when chewed.

Sugar Maple

large three pronged leaves turning from green to yellow
The wood from these trees are used for furniture and flooring because it’s hard and sturdy.
Scientific name: Acer saccharum

The sugar maple is distinguished by jet black patches found on the lower trunk that makes the tree appear burnt. Additionally, the tree exhibits long strips of strong curling bark.

Younger sugar maples have smoother gray bark that lacks many of the dark patches near the base. As it ages, the curling strips and dark patches form.

Sugar maples found in forests typically have low-hanging limbs that protrude outwards from the trunk at right angles. The angle sharpens toward the crown. Sapsuckers often make holes in the bark approximately one-fourth inches in diameter.

The leaves run three to five inches in length, are simple in appearance, and have three to five toothed lobes. They are dark green on top and lighter underneath. The leaves change to vibrant yellow and orange hues during the autumn months.

Sweetgum

multicolored star shaped leaves with spikey round cones hanging from branches
These trees to well in warmer climates and can reach a height of 60-75 feet.
Scientific name: Liquidambar styraciflua

Sweetgum is light gray with rough bark. It grows tall with a slender conical crown. The limbs often have numerous ridges protruding along their lengths. Fruit capsules typically approximate the size of a golf ball and spike outwards in all directions.

The leaves are star-shaped and measure five to seven inches in width. They produce an aromatic scent when pulverized. They change to brilliant yellow, orange, red, and dark bronze during the autumn months.

Sycamore

spotted light gray tree trunk with a canopy of yellow leaves covering it
The trunks of these trees are very distinct making them easy to spot.
Scientific name: Platanus occidentalis

The Sycamore tree is often referred to as “the tree of bleached bones” because it resembles bones with tatters of residual skin. The trunk and limbs are large, spaced, and host patches of thin, light bark. Under the peeling papery tatters is a lighter green smooth trunk. Over time, the trunk becomes engulfed by the tan outer bark that continuously sheds.

The sycamore tree leaves measure four to eight inches in width and have an unusual fan-like shape. Veins of the leaves run from the base of the stem and grow outwards, resembling finger bones.

Shagbark Hickory

dark peeling bark on tree with bright yellow leaves
These trees have long, layered bark that peels easily all over its trunk.
Scientific name: Carya ovata

The shagbark hickory tree typically grows in dry, well-drained areas. Its mottled bark is gray, sturdy, and somewhat lustrous. Like the sycamore, the bark often peels along the trunk from the base to the crown. Over time, the peeling bark overlaps itself and hangs in layers measuring six inches in length or more. Each strip is incredibly strong.

The leaves run eight to fourteen inches in length, are toothed, and are light green to yellow. The leaves tend to darken towards the shagbark hickory’s crown.

Shellbark Hickory

tree trunk with long strips of bark hanging off
Similar to the Shagbark Hickory tree however these trees will do better in wetter conditions.
Scientific name: Carya laciniosa

The shellbark hickory is very similar to the shagbark mentioned above. It’s nearly identical in both features and appearances. However, it can be distinguished by where it grows, favoring wet sites. Additionally, the leaves are more extended, reaching lengths of over two feet!

The long stems tend to hang from the limbs after shedding leaflets.

Virginia Pine

pine cones surrounded by long pine needles
This pine tree does well in full sun and can adapt to many different living conditions.
Scientific name: Pinus virginiana

Virginia, a type of southern yellow pine, can grow independently or with other shortleaf pines. It can be identified by its thin brown bark that flakes. Additionally, it features stubs that run up and down the trunk. Virginia pine crowns are slender and sparse, unlike most other pine species.

The cones measuring two inches long are slim, curved, and prickly.

Virginia pine needles twist and spread into clumps. They measure one and a half to three inches long and are yellow or green. They can help further identify the Virginia pine species by being noticeably shorter than other pine species common to Tennessee.

White Oak

large tree in the middle of a field
These trees are slow to medium growers and can reach a height of around 50-80 feet tall.
Scientific name: Quercus alba

White oaks have very light-colored bark. They’re usually gray with a texture that ranges from rough and tight to loose and cracking. Additionally, the bark hangs in strips from the side of the trunk.

In texture, the bark is soft and crumbly. White oak trees are enormous with strong, expansive limbs.

White Oak leaves measure five to nine inches in length and two to five inches in width. They change to a bright green color as they age, while lower leaves are paler.

White Pine

long feather like pine needles with long pine cones hanging from branch
These pine trees will grow quickly and reach a height of 150-210 feet tall.
Scientific name: Pinus strobus

The white pine can be easily identified by its branches. They grow in whorls of a distinctive wheel shape. Each whorl reaches the same height. Over time, the whorls cluster around the trunk. When they die, these whorls remain attached to the lower parts of the trunk, making it easy to tell the tree’s age.

The bark is a dark charcoal color with soft, pliable vibrant needles that measure three to five inches in length and form in clumps. The bluish-green needles also feature light stripes near the base.

Winged Elm

tree branch with long chunky bark on it
The cork like ridges that grow on the trunk and branches make this tree very unique and easy to spot.
Scientific name: Ulmus alata

The Winged elm features distinctive cork-like ridges that grow along a gray trunk and limbs. Winged elms are typically small and prefer dry and rocky sites. The crown forms into a flat rounded tip.

The leaves run one and a half to three inches in length and approximately one and a half inches in width. They feature numerous fine teeth that are rough in texture.

Yellow-Poplar

green and orange cup shaped flower growing in tree with big green leaves surrounding it
These trees are popular in the eastern United States and are not only beautiful, but they also grow these unique tulip shaped flowers on them.
Scientific name: Liriodendron tulipifera

The yellow-poplar conclude are listed. It’s identified by its upright streamlined shape and smooth trunk that changes from gray to light brown from base to crown.

Additionally, yellow poplar’s can be easily identified by silvery chalk-like dust present within the nooks and channels of the bark.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion of our comprehensive look at 31 trees common to Tennessee, we hope you have a newfound appreciation and understanding of each species. Now that you understand distinct characteristics better, you’ll experience a newfound appreciation for each one as you identify it growing wild or near your home.

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