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Illustrations of Common Eastern United States Trees by Charles Sprague Sargent

Illustrations of Common Eastern United States Trees by Charles Sprague Sargent


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Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Plates

Public domain

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent was a Harvard University botany graduate and American Civil War veteran. Sargent went on to found Harvard's Arnold Arboretum.

Here is a collection of illustrations of the most common trees found in the United States. Although most noted for his work as the director of a nationally recognized arboretum, Charles Sprague Sargent was a talented illustrator of trees and their parts.

Professor Sargent was often referred to as knowing "more about trees than any other living person." He left a legacy of tree illustrations that have been a resource for students of tree identification for more than a century.

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Illustration of Sugar Maple: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum. Charles Sprague Sargent Illustration

Sugar maple is not just a northern U.S. tree. You can find sugar maple from Florida to Maine. Its leaf is on Canada's flag and the tree is well known in Vermont for maple syrup.

The sugar maple tree is the principal source of maple sugar. The trees are tapped early in the spring for the first flow of sap, which usually has the highest sugar content. The sap is collected and boiled or evaporated to a syrup. The beautiful fall foliage of New England, which attracts millions of leaf "peepers" and their dollars into the northeast U.S. region, is dominated by the sugar maple species.

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Illustration of American Basswood: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection American Basswood. Charles Sprague Sargent

American basswood is a big and broad-spreading hardwood tree. Greyish-brown twigs bear plump rounded winter buds. The leaves are large and heart-shaped.

American basswood is a rapid-growing tree of eastern and central North America. The tree frequently has two or more trunks and vigorously sprouts from stumps as well as seed. American basswood is an important timber tree, especially in the Great Lakes states. It is the northernmost basswood species. The soft, light wood has many uses as wood products. The tree is also well known as a honey or bee-tree, and the seeds and twigs are eaten by wildlife. It is commonly planted as a shade tree in urban areas of the eastern states where it is called American linden.

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Illustration of American Beech: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. Charles Sprague Sargent

American beech is a "strikingly handsome" tree with tight, smooth, and skin-like gray bark. The slick bark is so unique, it is a major species identifier.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is the only species of this genus in North America. Although beech is now confined to the eastern United States (except for the Mexican population) it once extended as far west as California and probably flourished over most of North America before the glacial period.

This slow-growing, common, deciduous tree reaches its greatest size in the alluvial soils of the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys and may attain ages of 300 to 400 years. Beech wood is excellent for turning and steam bending. It wears well, is easily treated with preservatives, and is used for flooring, furniture, veneer, and containers. The distinctive triangular nuts are eaten by people and are an important food for wildlife.

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Illustration of American Holly: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection American Holly, Ilex opaca. Charles Sprague Sargent

American holly has heavy, spiny, evergreen leaves and smooth gray bark. Male and female flowers are on separate trees. The female has bright red fruit.

When the Pilgrims landed the week before Christmas in 1620 on the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the evergreen, prickly leaves and red berries of American holly (Ilex opaca) reminded them of the English holly (Ilex aquifolium), a symbol of Christmas for centuries in England and Europe. Since then, American holly, also called white holly or Christmas holly, has been one of the most valuable and popular trees in the eastern United States, beloved for its foliage and berries, which are used for Christmas decorations and for ornamental plantings.

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Illustration of American Sycamore: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection American Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis. Charles Sprague Sargent

The American sycamore is a massive tree and can attain the largest trunk diameter of any of the eastern U.S. hardwoods. The native sycamore has a grand branch display and its bark is unique among all trees-you can always identify a sycamore just by looking at the bark.

Platanus occidentalis is readily identifiable with broad, alternate, maple-like leaves and a trunk and limb complexion of mixed green, tan, and cream. The bark's pattern can resemble camouflage. It is a member of one of the planet's oldest clan of trees (Platanaceae): Paleobotanists have dated the family to be over 100 million years old. Living sycamore trees can reach ages of five hundred to six hundred years.

The American sycamore or western planetree is North America's largest native broadleaf tree and is often planted in yards and parks. Its hybridized cousin, the London planetree, adapts very well to urban living. The "improved" sycamore is New York City's tallest street tree and is the most common tree in Brooklyn, New York.

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Illustration of Baldcypress: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Baldcypress, Taxodium distichum. Charles Sprague Sargent

Baldcypress grows in a natural range, from New York City's Central Park to water-saturated swamps of Florida's Everglades and up the Mississippi River basin.

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) is a deciduous conifer that grows on saturated and seasonally inundated soils of the southeastern and Gulf coastal plains. Two varieties share essentially the same natural range. Variety nutans, commonly called pondcypress, cypress, or black-cypress, grows in shallow ponds and wet areas westward only to southeastern Louisiana. It does not usually grow in river or stream swamps. Variety distichum, commonly called baldcypress, cypress, southern-cypress, swamp-cypress, red-cypress, yellow-cypress, white-cypress, tidewater red-cypress, or gulf-cypress, is more widespread and typical of the species. Its range extends westward into Texas and northward into Illinois and Indiana.

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Illustration of Black Cherry: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Black Cherry, Prunus serotina. Charles Sprague Sargent

Black cherry is the most important native cherry found throughout the eastern United States. Black Cherry is also known as wild black cherry, rum cherry, and mountain black cherry.

These large, high-quality trees, suited for furniture wood or veneer, are found in large numbers in a more restricted commercial range on the Allegheny Plateau of Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. Smaller quantities of high-quality trees grow in scattered locations along the southern Appalachian Mountains and the upland areas of the Gulf coastal plain. Elsewhere, black cherry is often a small, poorly formed tree of relatively low commercial value, but important to wildlife for its fruit.

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Illustration of Blackgum: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica. Charles Sprague Sargent

Blackgum or black tupelo is often associated with wet areas as is suggested by its Latin genus name Nyssa, the name for a Greek mythological water sprite.

Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is divided into two commonly recognized varieties, typical black tupelo (var. sylvatica) and swamp tupelo (var. biflora). They are usually identifiable by their differences in habitats: Black tupelo is found on light-textured soils of uplands and stream bottoms and swamp tupelo is found on heavy organic or clay soils of wet bottom lands. They do intermingle in some coastal plain areas and in those cases are hard to differentiate. These trees have moderate growth rate and longevity and are an excellent food source for wildlife, fine honey trees, and handsome ornamentals.

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Illustration of Black Locust: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. Charles Sprague Sargent

Black Locust is an irregular tree with short branches and smooth twigs with a pair of thorns at leaf base. Leaves are alternate and compound with oval leaflets.

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) grows naturally and does best on rich moist limestone soils. It has become naturalized throughout eastern North America.

The black locust is a legume with root nodes that, along with bacteria, "fix" atmospheric nitrogen into the soil. These soil nitrates are usable by other plants. Most legumes have pea-like flowers with distinctive seed pods. The black locust is native to the Ozarks and the southern Appalachians but has been transplanted in many northeastern states and Europe. The tree has become a pest in areas outside its natural range. You are forewarned to plant the tree with caution.

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Illustration of Black Oak: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Black Oak. Charles Sprague Sargent

Black oak is the most common eastern United States oak. The oak has spiny leaves and acorns that take two years to ripen.

Black oak (Quercus velutina) is a common, medium-sized to large oak of the eastern and midwestern United States. It is sometimes called yellow oak, quercitron, yellowbark oak, or smoothbark oak. It grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soils, but it is often found on poor, dry sandy, or heavy glacial clay hillsides where it seldom lives more than 200 years. Good crops of acorns provide wildlife with food. The wood, commercially valuable for furniture and flooring, is sold as red oak. Black oak is seldom used for landscaping.

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Illustration of Black Walnut: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Black Walnut, Juglans nigra. Charles Sprague Sargent

Black walnut has fragrant leaves of 15 or more leaflets. The round nut grows in a thick green husk, from which pioneers made a brown dye.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra), also called eastern black walnut and American walnut, is one of the scarcest and most coveted native hardwoods. Small natural groves frequently found in mixed forests on moist alluvial soils have been heavily logged.

The fine straight-grained wood once made prize pieces of solid furniture and gunstocks. As the supply diminishes, the remaining quality black walnut is used primarily for veneer. The distinctive tasting nuts are in demand for baked goods and ice cream, but people must be quick to harvest them before the squirrels. The shells are ground for use in many products.

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Illustration of Black Willow: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Black Willow, Salix nigra. Charles Sprague Sargent

Black willow is found along many streams in the eastern United States. The thin, narrow leaves often have heart-shaped stipules at their base.

Black willow (Salix nigra) is the largest and the only commercially important willow of about 90 species native to North America. It is more distinctly a tree throughout its range than any other native willow: 27 species attain tree size in only part of their range. Other names sometimes used are swamp willow, Goodding willow, southwestern black willow, Dudley willow, and sauz (Spanish). This short-lived, fast-growing tree reaches its maximum size and development in the lower Mississippi River valley and bottom lands of the Gulf coastal plain. Stringent requirements of seed germination and seedling establishment limit black willow to wet soils near water courses, especially floodplains, where it often grows in pure stands. Black willow is used for a variety of wooden products and the tree, with its dense root system, is excellent for stabilizing eroding lands.

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Illustration of Boxelder: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Boxelder, Acer negundo. Charles Sprague Sargent

Boxelder is the most widely distributed of all the North American maples, ranging from coast to coast and from Canada to Guatemala.

Boxelder (Acer negundo) is one of the most widespread and best known of the maples. Its other common names include ashleaf maple, boxelder maple, Manitoba maple, California boxelder, and western boxelder. Best development of the species is in the bottom-land hardwood stands in the lower Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, although it is of limited commercial importance there. Its greatest value may be in shelterbelt and street plantings in the Great Plains and the West, where it is used because of its drought and cold tolerance.

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Illustration of Butternut: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Butternut, Juglans cinerea. Charles Sprague Sargent

Butternut is found from southeastern New Brunswick throughout the New England states, except for northwest Maine and Cape Cod.

Butternut (Juglans cinerea), also called white walnut or oilnut, grows rapidly on well-drained soils of hillsides and streambanks in mixed hardwood forests. This small- to medium-sized tree is short-lived, seldom reaching the age of 75. Butternut is more valued for its nuts than for lumber. The soft coarse-grained wood stains and finishes well. Small amounts are used for cabinetwork, furniture, and novelties. The sweet nuts are prized as a food by humans and animals. Butternut is easily grown but must be transplanted early because of the quickly developing root system.

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Illustration of Cucumbertree: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Cucumbertree, Magnolia acuminata. Charles Sprague Sargent

Cucumbertree is the hardiest of the native tree-size magnolias. The climate is described as humid to subhumid throughout its range.

Cucumbertree (Magnolia acuminata), also called cucumber magnolia, yellow cucumbertree, yellow-flower magnolia, and mountain magnolia, is the most widespread and hardiest of the eight native magnolia species in the United States, and the only magnolia native to Canada. They reach their greatest size in moist soils of slopes and valleys in the mixed hardwood forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Growth is fairly rapid and maturity is reached in 80 to 120 years.

The soft, durable, straight-grained wood is similar to yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). They are often marketed together and used for pallets, crates, furniture, plywood, and special products. The seeds are eaten by birds and rodents and this tree is suitable for planting in parks.

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Illustration of Dogwood: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida. Charles Sprague Sargent

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is one of America's most popular ornamental trees. Most known as dogwood, its other names are boxwood and cornel.

Flowering dogwood grows well on flats and on lower or middle slopes, but not very well on upper slopes and ridges. The inability to grow on extremely dry sites is attributed to its relatively shallow root system. The species name florida is Latin for flowering, but the showy petal-like bracts are not in fact flowers. The bright red fruit of this fast-growing short-lived tree are poisonous to humans but provide a great variety of wildlife with food. The wood is smooth, hard, and close-textured and now used for specialty products.

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Illustration of Eastern Cottonwood: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides. Charles Sprague Sargent

Eastern cottonwood (typical) (Populus deltoides var. deltoides) is also called southern cottonwood, Carolina poplar, eastern poplar, necklace poplar, and álamo.

Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), one of the largest eastern hardwoods, is short-lived but the fastest-growing commercial forest species in North America. It grows best in moist well-drained sands or silts near streams, often in pure stands. The lightweight, rather soft wood is used primarily for core stock in manufacturing furniture and for pulpwood. Eastern cottonwood is one of the few hardwood species that is planted and grown specifically for these purposes.

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Illustration of Eastern Hemlock: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Eastern Hemlock. Charles Sprague Sargent

The species is found from New England and through the mid-Atlantic states, extending westward to the Appalachian Mountains and south to Georgia and Alabama.

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), also called Canada hemlock or hemlock spruce, is a slow-growing long-lived tree, which, unlike many trees, grows well in shade. It may take 250 to 300 years to reach maturity and may live for 800 years or more. A tree measuring 76 inches in DBH (diameter at breast height) and 175 feet tall is among the largest recorded. Hemlock bark was once the source of tannin for the leather industry; now the wood is important to the pulp and paper industry. Many species of wildlife benefit from the excellent habitat that a dense stand of hemlock provides. This tree also ranks high for ornamental planting.

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Illustration of Eastern Redcedar: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Eastern Redcedar. Charles Sprague Sargent

Eastern redcedar is the most widely distributed conifer of tree size in the eastern United States and is found in every state east of the 100th meridian.

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), also called red juniper or savin, is a common coniferous species growing on a variety of sites throughout the eastern half of the United States. Although eastern redcedar is generally not considered to be an important commercial species, its wood is highly valued because of its beauty, durability, and workability.

The number of trees and volume of eastern redcedar are increasing throughout most of its range. It provides cedarwood oil for fragrance compounds, food and shelter for wildlife, and protective vegetation for fragile soils.

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Illustration of American Elm: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection American Elm, Ulmus americana. Charles Sprague Sargent

American elm is found throughout eastern North America.

American Elm (Ulmus americana), also known as white elm, water elm, soft elm, or Florida elm, is most notable for its susceptibility to the wilt fungus, Ceratocystis ulmi. Commonly called Dutch elm disease, this wilt has had a tragic impact on American elms. Scores of dead elms in forests, shelterbelts, and urban areas are testimony to the seriousness of the disease. Because of it, American elms now comprise a smaller percentage of the large diameter trees in mixed forest stands than formerly. Nevertheless, the previously developed silvical concepts remain basically sound.

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Illustration of Green Ash: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica. Charles Sprague Sargent

Green ash extends from eastern Canada south through central Montana and northeastern Wyoming to southeastern Texas, then east to northwestern Florida and Georgia.

Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), also called red ash, swamp ash, and water ash, is the most widely distributed of all the American ashes. Naturally a moist bottom-land or stream bank tree, it is hardy to climatic extremes and has been widely planted in the Plains states and Canada. The commercial supply is mostly in the South. Green ash is similar in property to white ash and they are marketed together as white ash. The large seed crops provide food to many kinds of wildlife. Due to its good form and resistance to insects and disease, it is a very popular ornamental tree.

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Illustration of Hackberry: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis. Charles Sprague Sargent

Hackberry is widely distributed in the eastern United States.

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is a widespread small- to medium-sized tree, known also as common hackberry, sugarberry, nettletree, beaverwood, northern hackberry, and American hackberry. On good bottom-land soils it grows fast and may live to 20 years. The wood, heavy but soft, is of limited commercial importance. It is used in inexpensive furniture where a light-colored wood is desired. The cherry-like fruits often hang on the trees throughout the winter providing many birds with food. Hackberry is planted as a street tree in midwest cities because of its tolerance to a wide range of soil and moisture conditions.

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Illustration of Mockernut Hickory: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Mockernut Hickory, Carya tomentosa. Charles Sprague Sargent

Mockernut hickory grows from Massachusetts west to southern Michigan, then to southeastern Iowa, Missouri, south to eastern Texas and east to northern Florida.

Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa), also called mockernut, white hickory, whiteheart hickory, hognut, and bullnut, is one of the most abundant hickories in North America. It is long-lived, sometimes reaching the age of 500 years. A high percentage of the wood is used for products where strength, hardness, and flexibility are needed. It makes an excellent fuelwood, too.

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Illustration of Laurel Oak: Charles Sprague Sargent Tree Leaf Plate

Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent's Tree Illustration Collection Laurel Oak, Quercus laurifolia. Charles Sprague Sargent

Laurel oak is native to the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida and westward to southeastern Texas.

Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia) is also called Darlington oak, diamond-leaf oak, swamp laurel oak, laurel-leaf oak, water oak, and obtusa oak. There has been a