Ah, summer. While we look forward to longer days and warmer temperatures year-round, sometimes summer heat can be overwhelming. In those moments, it’s helpful to turn to our local forests to cool down. To help, we’ve put together a list of ten perfect shade trees to beat even the hottest days.
Commonly found in the Midwest and Northeast, this tree is prized for its hardiness and adaptability, allowing it to be planted in gardens across the country. With broad, heart-shaped leaves, the Northern Catalpa is an ideal shade tree. Its trunk tends to be narrow and tall, supporting a higher canopy that gradually grows outward, providing an almost umbrella-like shade coverage. Be warned, though, that this tree can be messy in the spring, when it flowers and produces pods that fall to the ground.
The red maple is found throughout North America, from Canada to Florida, and is well-known for its striking red leaves during the fall. One of the reasons for its great success is its ability to grow in many different climates and soil types, as well as different elevations. Typically growing more than 100 feet tall, the red maple casts a wide band of shade thanks to its broad canopy. Its leaves are also iconic, with a three-point outline that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the flag of Canada. Though red maple can be used to make maple syrup, most often these trees are used in parks, street landscaping, and even the art of bonsai.
Northern Red Oak
True to its name, the northern red oak is commonly found in the northern United States and Canada, although its range now expands to southeastern states, as well. This oak is even considered the state tree of New Jersey. A tall and hardy tree, the red oak can grow up to 140 feet tall and live for more than 300 years. In fact, some of the oldest trees in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are red oaks and locally preserved and celebrated. Like other oaks, the red oak produces acorns in the fall, which become a food source for smaller animals.
The weeping willow is the product of human cultivation in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe and is considered a hybrid species derived from the original Chinese willow. Unlike other trees with a strong upright canopy, the weeping willow instead has drooping branches that slope downward, creating a long, dangling canopy over the ground. This has made the weeping willow a popular tree for artists, writers, and poets, who have found the graceful appearance to be a source of inspiration. The weeping willow is primarily used for ornamental purposes and is popular in parks, gardens, and other public places.
Originally hailing from Europe and sometimes called the European Alder, the black alder is popular because it can grow even in wet, swampy, or low quality areas. Though it doesn’t grow as high as some other trees on this list—100 feet is typically the maximum—it has a thick and shady canopy. Alder leaves are rounded and stay on the tree longer into the fall than many other types of trees, providing shade longer into the year. The alder is a critical part of forest ecosystems. Since it is often found near rivers, wildlife flock to the alder and it frequently becomes an important source of shade for grazing animals.
The magnolia is widely known and beloved for its large canopy, large, waxy leaves, and large white and pink flowers. Commonly found in southeastern states, the magnolia thrives in sunny climates, although they are hardy and can tolerate diverse regions. The magnolia has many different variations that are found worldwide, including Europe, Asia, the Pacific islands, and the Caribbean. Because magnolia trees are found around the world, they have become a part of many different cultures and are prized for their dramatic looks. The magnolia flower is also the official state flower of two Southern states, Mississippi and Louisiana.
The bur oak is found across the Eastern seaboard, from Canada to the Carolinas, as well as further west. A large and tough tree, the bur oak can grow more than 100 feet tall and live more than 300 years. The bur oak is known for its distinctive canopy, which splays outward with many branches. This is particularly evident when the tree loses its leaves in the winter. Because it is hardy and resistant to many different temperature ranges, the bur oak is a popular choice for public parks, gardens, and streetscapes.
The American sycamore is native to North America and thrives throughout the northeastern and central parts of the country. This tree can grow more than 100 feet tall and 6 feet wide, making it a popular shade tree. Perhaps the most striking feature of the sycamore is its gray and white bark, which often peels and falls from the tree as it grows. Because the sycamore can grow in many different climates, many cities use these trees for shade along city streets. Sycamores are some of the biggest trees that grow along the Eastern seaboard, making them hard-to-miss specimens.
A relative of the aspen tree, the hybrid poplar is known for a tall, narrow form that makes it popular among gardeners who need a row of shade trees that grow quickly. Many varieties of poplar trees are considered hybrids, because they have been cultivated for various traits, including their shape and types of flowers. However, it’s important to note that taller, skinnier trees like poplars need a strong and vast root system, which makes planting poplar trees near sidewalks, house foundations, or underground pipes not recommended.
The dogwood is a globally popular tree that is known for its smooth bark, white flowers, and fruit. In fact, dogwoods are so popular that they are included in gardens throughout the United States, Europe, Central America, and Asia. Though they do not grow as large as some of the other trees on this list, dogwoods are a diverse species of tree that live well in many different climates, making them a versatile and attractive shade tree.
With so many different shade trees to choose from, it’s easy to find the perfect tree to lounge under this summer. Just bring a good book, some water, and a picnic blanket and enjoy these natural sources of shade!