Plant Native Trees Instead of Invasive Species: A List of Both Types

The catalpa tree on a Brooklyn street
The catalpa tree on a Brooklyn street | Source

My lovely New York City street is filled with towering trees. But unlike the easily identifiable oak and catalpa of my youth, many of these trees do not belong here in the U.S. They are an invasive species. Choosing to plant only native species has many natural benefits.

What is an Invasive Species? What is a Native Species?

- According to the U.S. government, an invasive species in not native to the ecosystem being considered and the introduction of the species can cause or is likely to cause harm that is economic, environmental and is also harmful to human health.

- Native trees occur naturally in a particular ecosystem. The tree or plant originated there without human assistance. Keep in mind too, that plants growing in one part of the U.S. can be considered invasive in another part. Different parts of the U.S. are at different elevations and have different soil types and weather patterns.

How Did These Trees Get Here?

Contrary to popular belief, invasive trees were not an accident. They were brought here intentionally. According to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, nearly half of the most harmful invasive plants degrading our natural habitats throughout the U.S. were brought here intentionally for horticultural purposes. Many are still being sold for erosion control and simply to look good in the garden.

For example, highway departments, after building new roads, often chose invasive plants in order to establish fast-growing ground covers, especially on slopes.

See link below about the Meyer Lemon Tree and harm caused thanks to a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) worker who decided to bring it here to the U.S. from China.

How Do They Cause Damage?

When planted in a new ecosystem, nonnative species may displace native trees by growing taller, wider, faster and by creating shade cover over the native species. As a result, the nutrient cycle of native plants is affected, which can also have a devastating effect on animals.

Damage caused by invasive plants do about $120 billion dollars of damage annually. Additionally, approximately 42 percent of threatened species on the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Species are there because of nonnative species. (See link below about how animals get on the endangered species list).

Invasive plants are difficult to control and hard to eliminate. It's best to avoid them.

Is There Any Way I Can Easily Tell if a Tree is Not Native?

A quick way to tell is by the name. Often the place of origin is in the name. For example, the English Ivy - a vine - is not native as the name indicates. (I watched the ivy twine its way up a neighbor's native tree and destroy it). Trees that are not native include the European Elder and the Australian Pine. More trees are listed below on the invasive list.

What are the Benefits?

Native trees will preserve the natural beauty of your community as well as the natural balance between all native species and all the birds, butterflies and others that depend on the various species. They are also easier to grow and maintain.

List of Native Trees:

- Virginia Live Oak

- Tan Oak

- Shingle Oak

- Redbud

- American Smoke Tree

- Kentucky Coffeetree

- Pagoda Dogwood

- Red Maple

- Red Mulberry

- Big Leaf Maple

- Black Gum

- Pecan

- Mountain Ash

- Flowering Ash

- Wafer Ash

- Speckled Elder

- River Birch

- Eastern Redcedar

- Sand Pine

- Paradise Tree

- Arizona Cypress

- Sweetbay

- Red Bay

- Northern Catalpa

- Sweet Birch

- Big Tooth Aspen

- Quaking Aspen

- Allegheny Service Berry

- Fringe Tree

- Sassafras

- Black Willow

- Black Olive

- American Mountain Ash

- Winged Elm

- Hackberry

There are many more. Be sure to check which trees are native and grow best in your area.

Avoid These Invasive Trees:

- Weeping Willow

- Norway Maple

- Amur Maple

- Earleaf Maple

- Sycamore Maple

- Large Maple

- Sawtooth Oak

- Black Locust

- Silk Tree, Mimosa

- Chinese Tallow Tree

- European Mountain Ash

- Chinaberry

- English Holly

- European Alder

- Siberian Elm

- Chinese Elm

- Princess Tree

- White Poplar

- Callery Pear

- Paper Mulberry

- Bishopwood

- Carrotwood

- Tasmanian Blue Gum

- Figs

- Umbrella Tree

- Tree of Heaven (Growing up in New York City, we used to call these frilly-looking trees 'highway trees' and 'Bronx trees' - they were everywhere, especially in vacant lots - and I can add Brooklyn to the list. They have also invaded Oregon and Nebraska, south to Florida and California and from Maine to Michigan).

For more information about native trees, see the links below:

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Comments 14 comments

d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south

Good hub. Unfortunately though, when we go to the nurseries to pick out a tree to plant on our properties, there is no way of knowing if that particular tree is friendly or invasive. But with your list (which i have copied for my own use) i will be more diligent in selecting which trees to plant. You can't tell by looking at them at the nursery, and most of the sales people do not know what category they fit into.

I was surprised to see Mimosa trees on the list of trees to avoid. I live in Florida and mimosas are one of my favorite trees. They are quite beautiful, grow fast, love the hot sunlight, and provide the shade needed for less sun tolerant plants. Thank you for sharing this information with us.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India

We mess around with Nature so much, don't we? We have a similar problem in India and there's a growing belief that trees that are not native could be the cause of the high prevalence of allergies in some areas.

I was very surprised to see the number of mimosa trees as well as banyan trees in Florida!


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

I knew the kudzu vine was introduced to the South for erosion control before anyone knew how fast it would get out of control and grow **everywhere**.

But non-native trees can be equally "bad"? Not if you were a pioneer hoping to establish a homestead on the treeless plains of Kansas. Whatever seedlings survived the journey from Back East are what got planted and nurtured into much-needed shade, "native" or not. But personally, I wish they'd left the catalpa in Brooklyn. ;D


PWalker281 5 years ago

My mother planted ivy in our yard in Washington DC in the 60s and 70s and that plant grew EVERYWHERE. And yes, it did snake up the trees in the backyard and suck the life out of them. I always had the hardest time keeping it out of the root system of the beautiful azalea bush in another part of the yard when the house came to me and my brother.

I also remember magnolia trees when I was growing up. There used to be lots of them around DC, but they slowly disappeared. I always wondered why and am now thinking that perhaps some invasive species killed them off. Probably urban sprawl too.

Hawaii is extremely cautious about letting in plant species that are not native to the islands. You have to fill out an agricultural report before disembarking to declare any plants you might be carrying with you when you fly over, and your bags have to be checked when you leave the islands.

Great hub, BkCreative. Rated up and useful.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas

Great information. Voted up and interesting! :)

Here in my wildscaped yard in Texas, I have planted native and naturalized trees and bushes. Even so, this summer I lost 4 bushes to drought. One type of tree that I have may be considered an invasive species. I don't know the name of it, but the story behind it is interesting. I got my first one from a friend's yard. The first one planted in their yard had come from Africa as a shoot wrapped up in paper in a steamer trunk over a hundred years ago. When the intrepid traveler arrived home in Texas, he planted it in his yard (which later became my friend's yard). These trees are fast growing and fast spreading, have big thorns and bear lots of sweet smelling white flowers in the spring. Invasive or not, they kept my yard shaded all summer, prevented my ground from cracking, and gave the honeybees something to eat and the songbirds and doves a place to rest, so I'm glad to have them. I planted my first one 15 years ago, and I now have a wooded yard! I also have hackberry, cottonwood, and local evergreens planted. Oh! I also have catalpa and mimosa, but they aren't being very invasive. I have only gotten one of each to grow in 15 years.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thanks for the information and the reminder about the importance of maintaining the health of native plants and preventing the growth of invasive species. It's a very important topic, but I don't think that many people think about it.


TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 5 years ago from New York City

My neighbor was just telling me how when she bought her house many years ago - the last thing she needed was high maintenance in her yard but that's just what she go as well as a super high water bill. She soon found out that not one native species existed in her landscaping and she has constantly had to prune and prune to control. Her biggest problem was the constant need for water.

My son also bought a house a couple years ago and just this summer decided to rip all the shrubs and trees out - he will start his own well-designed and native species yard. He wants natural beauty and low maintenance and more of the beautiful birds and butterflies and so on.

Yours is a very timely article - as NYC continues its drive to plant a million trees - but we are supposed to adopt them and take care of them - so hey, give us native trees, but unfortunately that is not always the case.

Rated up. Many thanks!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago

Very informative. There's a reason why some plants are native--God probably put them there because they're best for that particular place given the weather or location. Trying to mess with nature always have consequences. Rated up.


CountryCityWoman profile image

CountryCityWoman 5 years ago from From New York City to North Carolina

This just makes so much sense. And let me add - that people of course are the original invasive species: razing land everywhere, excavating for McMansions, destroying the soil with their pesticide green lawns that do not hold water and are no longer naturally aerated by worms which the birds love to eat after a rain - instead these toxic lawns allow water to simply run off. Where do we think all this rain water is supposed to go?

It's all on us now and I'm glad to see we have forums now to share information and effect change. Thanks a million BkCreative and rated up and more. I'm totally into living a native life.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

Wow, I didn't know non-native trees could be quite disadvantageous. Thanks for sharing this interesting info. Rated up and useful. :)


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for your great research and interesting information. You chosen a topic which not many people think about it. Well done.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Thanks so much for the comments. And the great thing about having this comments section is that good people contribute so many comments filled with information - so much more to share.

d.william, it is so true. Nurseries sell whatever. I can go in to any one and find all sorts of species that are not only invasive to the U.S. but to the area I live in.

Shalini Kagal - Messing around with nature is exactly what has been done. There has been no thinking. We have planted invasive species for so long that we think they belong there. But you know those mimosas do not belong in Florida. Will we ever think about the other animals we share this earth with?

JamaGenee - Yes, indeed, the kudzu is the classic example of irresponsible planting for the sake of erosion control - it has conquered the South and I shudder to think about how many animals have been displaces. My daughter's yard in Atlanta is large and filled with kudzu. Then the pioneers who themselves were invasive and did not know what to do with the land in Kansas - leaving it as a dust bowl and now as part of tornado alley.

P. Walker - I just published a hub (10 minutes ago) about invasive vines and the English Ivy has been greatly loved and planted and one of the worst. And then yes, there is the urban sprawl and...quick let's plant anything. Glad to hear Hawaii is cautious. Time to stop the madness.

justmesuzanne - I love the idea of a wildscaped yard. I'm going to check your hubs and see if you've already written about it. It makes so much sense especially when it comes to maintenance.

AliciaC. Thanks for commenting. I'm glad we do have forums now so we can share information like this.

thelistlady - My son is doing the same thing so I told him I would do some research and writing so he would have the information. He wrote back thanking me. So I am going to continue doing this with vines (just published), grasses, shrubs and other plants.

anglnwu - We are certainly feeling the consequences of our destruction of nature. Why on earth would we destroy marshlands and swaps to put up condos. We'll learn the hard way - hopefully, we will learn.

CountryCityWoman - I agree that we the people are the worst kind of invasive species. It seems we have destroyed everything we touched. Just the excavation of land has been devastating - and then what do you find out - that radon is toxic and leaching into the homes. Lawns are another problem with pesticides that kill the soil so we have more runoffs than ever. And no more worms for the birds, with the soil being compacted and dead. Sigh!

Om Paramapoonya - I enjoy doing this kind of research because it has made me an educated consumer. Should I decide to purchase trees I want what will grow naturally and easily and create balance in my environment.

Hello, hello, - I'm so glad we have a place where we can share information. I love doing research.

Thanks for the brilliant comments.


creativelycc profile image

creativelycc 5 years ago from Maine

Wow, I had no idea, good information. We have a home in northern Maine and have planted some apple and pear trees. Next year we're going to plant some more trees. I'll research which trees are native over the winter so we'll stay in good graces with nature.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Lovely idea and it makes so much sense creativelycc! It should make care a lot easier.

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