Trees are a gift from God. They shelter, feed and warm us. Our books and hand tools are made from them. They provide us with oxygen, cool us in the summer and break the freezing winds of winter.
I recently posted on why you should plant a woodlot. Today I’m going to give you more info on 18 of my favorite trees so you can start gathering what you need to create an epic stand of woods.
Ready? Let’s go!
Hawthorns are small trees or shrubs in the rose family. They produce edible fruit and will bring in plenty of game. They also, apparently, are magic. Though they’re not particularly useful for lumber or fuel, their edibility and small size makes them a good tree to tuck in here and there. Hawthorns are a large genus… there’s bound to be a family member in your area.
2. Black Walnut
As well as being one of the most valuable timber species in North America, black walnuts also produce an abundance of edible nuts. Not all trees can stand to grow near them, however, as black walnut roots produce a growth-dampening toxin known as jugalone. If you find walnuts in the fall, husk them, let them dry out a little, then bury them in damp soil and put them in the fridge until spring. Or just plant them in place and let winter do it for you. In the spring, they’ll start growing (provided the squirrels didn’t steal them).
Pecan nuts are valuable and the timber is excellent. They’re also a native North American tree. Some types can grow all the way from Florida to Canada. Plus, pecan pie.
Hickories are an excellent hardwood for tools. It’s also a wonderful cooking fuel, especially for smokehouses. Bonus: the nuts of most hickories are edible, though not all of them are worth the effort.
Chestnuts used to be one of the most common and useful trees in the United States before the horrible Chestnut Blight knocked out almost every hint of the native population. The wood is excellent for furniture… if you can find it. Fortunately, there are multiple organizations seeking to restore this majestic tree to North America. For large and tasty nut production, the Dunstan type is hard to beat. Otherwise, smaller Chinese trees are blight-resistant and will at least feed the livestock.
I can’t tell you how much I love these trees. The wood is beautiful and super-hard, plus female trees bear delicious and abundant crops of tasty fruit. American persimmon trees can be tucked in between other species, though they prefer more sun.
6. Sugar Maple
Maples produce an abundance of fast-decomposing leaves for your compost pile… and that’s the least of their talents. They also produce excellent wood and can be tapped for syrup.
Another small tree, crabapples are just wild forms of our domesticated apple trees. If you have them in your woodlot, they’ll feed the animals and provide you with useful fruit. They’ll also pollinate your other apple trees. If you want to get fancy, crabapples also make excellent root stocks for improved apple varieties. Graft away!
8. Osage Orange
This is a strange and thorny tree with disgusting bumpy green inedible fruit. It’s also a great tree for crafting bows, plus it makes a formidable hedgerow when planted closely. The wood is wicked hard and very rot-resistant.
Hackberry trees feed wildlife and produce good wood for furniture and plywood. They also grow quickly and can handle urban environments. Remember that if you decide to build your woodlot on the gutted remains of a burnt gas station.
10. Black Locust
Black locust fixes nitrogen. It’s also the go-to plant for fence posts. The stuff doesn’t rot for decades.
11. Black Cherry
Black cherries, also known as Prunus serotina, are a tall native tree that produce beautiful lumber. They also have edible berries that bring in the birds and also make wonderful jams and wines.
Though not an actual tree (bamboos are a giant grass), bamboo is an excellent addition to any woodlot. Clumping types are less productive but easier to control. Running types go crazy but produce like crazy. Bamboo shoots can be eaten and the canes make great fishing poles and garden stakes. Larger types can even be used to frame houses. When split, they can be made into baskets. There are so many uses for bamboo I can’t list them here. Suffice it to say: you should grow some!
There are multiple species of basswood that can be grown in the United States. The wood is very fine-grained and excellent for carving. Though it’s not the best of fuels, it’s a fast-growing tree that has edible leaves. Some types are so good that they can stand in for lettuce. And if you don’t like them, they’re still a great forage plants for goats.
Elderberries were a pioneer standby. They’re good food and good medicine. Elder wood isn’t all that useful, but the hollow stems can be used for whistles and pipe stems. Usually more of a shrub than a tree, elderberries like wet areas and forest edges.
Paulownia trees are the world’s fastest growing hardwood. When young, they have massive leaves that are excellent for compost. You can actually cut the trees again and again for biomass and fuel… or let them grow tall and use them to build with. For a close-to-instant forest, Paulownias are your go-to tree.
There are oaks that grow in almost every climate. Some have excellent wood and some have sweet acorns that are almost good enough to eat without processing. They take a while to grow but are worth adding as a long-term forest species.
I’m just a sucker for mulberry trees. The native type is Morus rubra, the “red” mulberry. It’s also a very big tree. Mulberry wood is beautiful for small craftwork, tools and furniture, but it’s not all that stable for lumber. The main benefit to mulberry trees: their abundant fruit production. Mulberries are a darn good survival crop.
These are just a few of the many species worth planting in your woodlot. Beyond these, consider pines, cedar, ash, alder, poplar, wild plums, gums and elm, to name a few.
Mixing species will give you a broad range of uses and options if you’ve ever forced to rely on your woodlot for food, fuel and building materials.
Start learning now, then start planting.