Massachusetts has a wide variety of tree species owing to its diverse terrain and climate. From the coastal lowlands to the Berkshire highlands, one can find many beautiful and ecologically important trees across the state.
So, what are the most common trees in massachusetts? Some of the most widespread and notable trees in Massachusetts include the red maple, white pine, northern red oak, black cherry, American beech, quaking aspen, black oak, white ash, eastern hemlock, paper birch, yellow birch, sugar maple, American basswood, black tupelo, eastern cottonwood, gray birch, white oak, and shagbark hickory.
Let's take a closer look at some of these gorgeous trees, shall we?
The red maple (Acer rubrum) is one of the most abundant and recognizable trees in Massachusetts. Named for its bright red foliage in autumn, the red maple can thrive in a variety of soil and moisture conditions. It's found everywhere, from forests to suburban yards. Red maple is identified by its gray bark with shallow furrows, redbuds, and 3-5 lobed leaves. It provides important food and habitat for birds, squirrels, and other wildlife.
A symbol of New England forests, the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) is a towering conifer that can grow over 150 feet tall. Its long, soft needles appear blue-green from a distance. The pine grows well in sandy, acidic soils and pioneers disturbed areas. White pine was heavily logged during colonial times for ship masts. Today, it's still valued commercially and ecologically as a wildlife habitat.
The northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is a common deciduous tree in Massachusetts forests, especially on dry, sandy ridges. It has dark gray furrowed bark and lobed leaves with pointed tips. The red oak is recognizable by its large acorn caps covering about a quarter of the nut. It provides hard and dense wood used for flooring, furniture, and other products. Northern red oak attracts wildlife like deer, turkeys, squirrels, and mice that eat its acorns.
Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is a medium-sized deciduous tree occurring on upland soils throughout Massachusetts. Mature trees have dark gray to black bark that resembles burnt potato chips. The ovate leaves have fine teeth along the edges. Black cherry produces long clusters of white flowers in spring, followed by small sour cherries. Birds readily feed on the nutritious cherries. The dark reddish-brown heartwood of black cherry is a valuable lumber.
The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) sports satiny, smooth gray bark and elliptical leaves with pointed tips. Often growing in pure stands, the beech forms an open canopy that lets light filter to the woodland floor. Beech drops bright orange-bronze leaves in fall. Beech trees provide food and habitat for numerous birds and mammals which consume its protein-rich nuts.
Quaking or trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) is a small deciduous tree occurring statewide in Massachusetts, typically on moist soils. Aspen leaves quiver or "quake" even in a slight breeze due to their flattened petioles. The simple round-toothed leaves turn brilliant yellow in autumn. Aspen bark is smooth and whitish-gray with black marks on mature trees. Aspen grows in clonal groves, spreading by underground rhizomes. Moose, deer, and rabbits browse aspen shoots.
The black oak (Quercus velutina) flourishes on dry, infertile sites in Massachusetts. This medium-sized oak has dark-furrowed bark and leaves with bristle-tipped lobes. The cap of the black oak acorn covers less than a quarter of the nut. The strong and heavy wood is used for railroad ties, flooring, barrels, and furniture. Black oak provides browse for deer and houses many squirrel dreys within its branches.
White ash (Fraxinus americana) occurs in moist forests across Massachusetts. Identified by its diamond-patterned gray bark, the white ash has compound leaves with 5-9 leaflets. Male and female flowers appear on separate trees in spring. The white ash grows rapidly into a large canopy tree. Its strong yet flexible wood is used for baseball bats and tool handles. Several animals utilize the winged seeds of white ash.
In shady, damp woods, you'll find the graceful conical form of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). With its drooping branches and flattened needles, the evergreen hemlock creates dense shade. Look for its small cones and delicate, fern-like foliage. Hemlock provides thermal cover for deer and birds during winter. Unfortunately, the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect, has killed many hemlocks in Massachusetts.
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is a short-lived pioneer species that colonizes old fields and clearings in Massachusetts. This fast-growing birch has striking white papery bark that peels off in sheets. Paper birch produces lots of small, winged seeds that birds and small mammals eat. The yellow fall foliage of paper birch adds brilliance to the autumn landscape. Paper birch requires full sun and does not tolerate shade.
The yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) grows as a large forest tree on moist, mountainous sites in western Massachusetts. Identified by its bronze-yellow peeling bark, the yellow birch has oval-shaped leaves that are pointed at the tip. The small, winged seeds mature in late summer. Yellow birch has been used extensively for lumber, pulp, and firewood owing to its high-quality wood. Deer and rabbits browse on birch twigs and foliage.
The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is renowned for the delicious maple syrup produced from its sap. This valuable hardwood grows on moist, fertile soils statewide. Sugar maple has gray-furrowed bark and lobed leaves that radiate from the stem in opposite pairs. The classic maple leaf sports five lobes with U-shaped edges between points. Sugar maple displays brilliant orange-red fall color. Its dense wood is used for furniture, flooring, and sports equipment.
American basswood (Tilia americana) is a large deciduous tree typical of rich woodlands in western and central Massachusetts. Also called American linden, its leaves are heart-shaped with a lopsided base. Basswood produces fragrant yellow flowers visited by many bees. The soft, lightweight wood has many uses, including wood carving and packaging. Deer browse the twigs and foliage, while squirrels, mice, and birds consume the nut-like seeds.
Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) inhabits swamps, bottomlands, and moist forests statewide. This slow-growing tree has thick-furrowed bark and glossy elliptical leaves. Black tupelo is most easily identified by its blue-black fruits borne on bright red stalks. Birds, including woodpeckers, turkeys, and cedar waxwings, feast on the bitter fruits in fall. Black tupelo displays brilliant scarlet foliage in autumn. Its heavy wood is used mainly for pulp.
A major streamside tree, the eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) utilizes its wind-dispersed seeds to rapidly colonize sand and gravel bars. Growing quickly into a large tree, its leaves are triangular like maple leaves but much larger. The bark is thick, gray, and deeply furrowed. Listen for the rustling sound of cottonwood leaves, which have flattened petioles, allowing them to tremble in the breeze. Cottonwood provides nesting habitat for many birds along riparian areas.
The petite gray birch (Betula populifolia) is a short-lived pioneer species that inhabits old fields, pastures, and disturbed sites throughout Massachusetts. Mature trees have grayish-white peeling bark streaked with horizontal dark markings called lenticels. This birch has small triangular leaves that turn pale yellow in fall. Often growing in clumps, gray birch needs lots of sunlight. Ruffed grouse feed on the catkins and buds in winter.
Majestic white oaks (Quercus alba) occur on well-drained soils statewide in Massachusetts. Mature trees have light gray flaky bark and stout spreading limbs. The leaves have rounded lobes with no bristles. Acorns have a bumpy cap covering about a quarter of the nut. The strong and rot-resistant wood of white oak has been used extensively for lumber, barrels, and ships. Many wildlife species utilize acorns as a major food source.
Lastly, the shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) inhabits dry ridgetops in western and central Massachusetts. This slow-growing hickory earns its name from the long-plated strips of bark that peel off the trunk. Leaves have five leaflets emerging from a stout stem. The sweet, edible nuts are prized by people and wildlife. Shagbark hickory produces extremely hard and resilient wood used for tools and firewood. Watch for the golden yellow fall foliage of shagbark hickory.
There you have it - 18 of the most common and ecologically important trees in Massachusetts. Our state's diverse deciduous and coniferous trees provide abundant benefits ranging from lumber and food to wildlife habitat and aesthetic beauty. So, next time you're out hiking, take a moment to admire some of the amazing trees that call Massachusetts home.
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How many tree species are in Massachusetts?
There are approximately 115 native tree species, and at least 45 introduced tree species found growing naturally across the diverse landscapes and ecosystems of Massachusetts.
What is the biggest tree in Massachusetts?
The largest known tree in Massachusetts is a massive white oak in Martha's Vineyard that stands over 100 feet tall with a canopy spread of 168 feet and a trunk circumference of over 21 feet.