5 Best Native Trees to Plant in Orlando

Flowering dogwood

Orlando’s subtropical climate allows homeowners to grow a wealth of different trees. However, for the least amount of pest and growth problems, going with trees native to Florida guarantees the best performance with the least amount of issues. Best of all, there’s a native tree to fit all your desires from flowering, vibrant fall color, edible fruit and a size to fit any landscape. Below we cover five of the best native trees to plant in your Orlando landscape.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Flowering dogwood trees (pictured above) offer brilliant color in spring as flowers burst onto the scene and again in fall with its colorful foliage. Growing only 25 to 30 feet tall, flowering dogwoods are good choices for smaller Orlando yards, but can also hold their own in larger landscapes.

Depending on the cultivar, the showy blooms range in colors or red, white or cream and can be single or double. Trees can be pruned to have a single or multiple trunks and some types have a weeping habit, adding even more interest. Additionally, trees are deciduous with green or variegated foliage in spring, changing to red, yellow and burgundy in fall. They grow well in sun to partial shade and fertile, well-drained soil.

Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

Fringe tree. Credit: Helen Lowe Metzman
Fringe tree. Credit: Helen Lowe Metzman/USGSBIML

Growing only 10 to 15 feet tall, a fringe tree is sure to grab attention as it fills with long panicles of white showy blooms in springtime. The fragrant flowers last for several weeks and stand out against the green, glossy foliage that is deciduous in winter. Fringe trees work well grown in containers, used as a specimen or patio tree.

For the best growth, plant in a location sheltered from the wind and in a sunny to partially shady site. However, the tree appreciates some afternoon shade when planted in a site receiving morning sun. Fringe trees tolerate growing in fertile soils that are well-drained to occasionally wet.

Carolina Buckthorn (Rhamnus caroliniana)

Carolina buckthorn.
Carolina buckthorn. Credit: Mason Brock

Carolina buckthorn is a small tree growing around 15 feet tall and thrives in various light conditions from full sun to shade but grows taller in a partially shady location. This is an attractive tree with an open canopy filled with a multitude of thin branches and fulfills a variety of needs in the garden. As an added bonus, the tree produces edible berries. Uses include containers, a patio tree or in wildlife gardens, hedges or as a specimen.

The tree has a deciduous nature filled with small green leaves in spring through summer and then puts on a colorful fall show as the foliage changes to red and orange. Carolina buckthorn blooms with inconspicuous greenish-white flowers in summer followed by red berries that ripen to black in fall. The edible berries are sweet and a favorite treat to birds. The small tree grows in a variety of soils provided they drain well.

Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Southern live oaks
Spanish moss drapes these Southern live oaks. Credit: Chelsea Marie Hicks, CC 2.0

Nothing gives the romantic feeling of the Old South like a Southern live oak with Spanish moss hanging from the limbs. The large, sprawling habit makes this hardy tree best suited for larger landscapes as the tree can grow 60 feet tall with a similar spread. Live Oaks are very tolerant to urban conditions and make picturesque large shade trees. They are useful specimens in wildlife gardens as the acorn fruits attract birds and various mammals like squirrels.

Live oaks thrive in sunny to shady locations and in soil that drains well or is occasionally wet. Additionally, the oak has a high tolerance to windy conditions. However, use caution when planting this large evergreen near driveways or sidewalks as the large roots can lift concrete. Once established, live oaks are hardy and tough tree that stand up to what nature throws at it.

Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto)

Cabbage palm frond.
Cabbage palm frond. Credit: John Tann, CC 2.0.

If you’re looking for a tree that stands up to hurricanes or tropical storms that can frequent Orlando and not skip a beat, then look no further than Florida’s state tree, the cabbage palm. The hardy and sturdy palm grows up to 50 feet tall and with a canopy filled with green palmate fronds. In summer, the palm produces long flower stalks filled with white flowers, which turn into black fruits favored by various wildlife species. Cabbage palms work well used as specimens, planted en masse to create shade or used in wildlife gardens.

This drought-tolerant palm grows well in a sunny to partially shady location. Additionally, it performs well in various soil conditions from well-drained to those that are occasionally flooded. Once established in the landscape, these are long-lived trees require little maintenance to look their best.

Know Your New Tree’s Preferences

Before taking out the shovel and digging a hole for your new addition to reside, always consider the tree’s preferred environmental conditions and mature size. You don’t want to plant a tree in a site prone to sogginess if the tree likes dry feet, or one that grows 40 feet wide crowded against your house. Get to know your particular tree’s mature size, sun, soil and moisture requirements, when selecting its permanent location in your landscape. This assures you will have a hardy and problem-free tree for years to come.

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr has been writing on horticultural and landscaping topics for over 15 years. In addition, for the past 20 years she’s owned and operated a landscaping and design business. She shares her experience and passion for all things green through her writing.