Recommended Alternatives to Ash Trees

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Note: Developed for Essex County

These recommendations were developed for Essex County and its climate and environment.They may not be ideal for other regions.

Paul Giroux
Registered Professional Forester, Essex Region Conservation Authority

An element of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Project is to encourage the replanting of trees destroyed by the beetle. Replanting a diversity of tree species suited for local conditions will benefit the community. Take note of existing trees in your neighbourhood to see what varieties are missing and review the list of trees provided by the Conservation Authority.

Silver Maple
Acer saccharinum L.

Silver Maple trees can grow to become medium to large trees at maturity, typically 20-30 metres in height with a diameter of a metre or more. They are considered to be quick growers, second only to the ash species. Often Silver Maple will grow as a multi-stemmed tree, especially if it is "nipped" back as a seedling by the browsing of deer. The fall colour of Silver Maple, not as extravagant as Red or Sugar Maple, displays a wonderful array of yellows.

Silver Maple is found to be a favourable tree to plant due to its wide range in habitat. It is found to do well on a variety of sites including flood plains, stream banks, lake edges and other better-drained moist soils. On tough clay sites within Southwestern Ontario, Silver Maple is a successful choice when planning for a restoration project or establishing windbreaks.

Squirrels and birds enjoy the many seeds produced and deer will often be lured to a young Silver Maple seedling to browse its tasty red stems.

Few issues do exist with Silver Maple and these should be considered when planning for its use. Considered a soft maple, Silver Maple does have a high likelihood of branch breakage suffered through ice and strong windstorms. It also has a fibrous root system and is notorious for clogging underground drainage lines that are not tightly sealed and close to the ground surface.

Sugar Maple
Acer saccharum Marsh.

Sugar Maple, or hard maple trees can grow to become a large tree reaching heights of 20-30 metres when planted on ideal sites. They can be long -lived, reaching ages of 200 years or more. Its trunk, the shape of its leaves and fall colour are the most distinguishing differences between Sugar and Silver Maple. Sugar Maple trees at maturity have rigid, plate like strips of bark and less deeply lobed leaves than that of Silver Maple and of course has legendary fall colours of red and orange.

Another major difference between Sugar and Silver Maple is the intolerance that Sugar Maple has to poorly drained sites. Sugar Maple does prefer well drained loams but will grow successfully on loamy sands and silty loams. Within the counties of Essex, Chatham-Kent and Lambton, these soils can be quite rare, therefore limiting the use of this tree.

Sugar Maple is also a tree that will perform well in the shade, lending itself to some potentially ideal understorey planting within an existing woodlot. Sugar Maple is enjoyed by an array of wildlife including birds, small mammals, squirrels and browsing deer. Squirrels especially pay much attention to this tree, gnawing at its winter buds for a tasty treat during the spring thawing months when sap flow is greatest within the tree.

Sugar Maple is a strong tree with very tough wood and is relatively free of major problems. It does not like to be planted along roadsides where salt spray and salt laden water will reach the root zone.

Red Maple
Acer rubrum L.

Red Maple trees are considered a medium to large size tree where it can reach heights of 25 metres or more. Often called scarlet maple, swamp maple or soft maple, they can grow to be poorly formed and quite defective if planted on a poor site. On proper sites, a Red Maple can grow quickly with good form.

Young Red Maple is a smooth barked tree, often resembling the bark of American Beech. As it ages, its bark becomes rigid like and scaly. Its leaves have three to fives lobes separated by shallow, sharp notches. In the fall, its leaf colour is considered to be brilliant.

Ideal sites for Red Maple include better drained soils or moderately well drained moist soils. It will tolerate drought conditions where it will stop growing until conditions improve. A second flush of growth will occur even if growth has stopped for two weeks.

Like the other maples, Red Maple is an important species to a variety of browsers including deer. The reproduction of Red Maple can be completely halted under severe browsing populations. Other problems with Red Maple is its vulnerability to an array of leaf eating insects such as leafhoppers which can stunt leaf production.

Hackberry
Celtis occidentalis L.

The Hackberry tree is considered a small to medium sized tree reaching heights of 12-25 metres. Its grey bark is very distinctive where it can range from having corky knobs and ridges to scaly patches. Hackberry can be seen in great numbers at Point Pelee National Park, where they can attain excellent growth.

Hackberry grows in many soil types but has an affinity with limestone soils. It is fairly drought resistant and can survive extreme dry periods. Hackberry is not tolerant to sites that periodically flood. Usually the tree will die within the second season as a result.

Hackberry seed is quite often eaten by an array of birds including, pheasants, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, robins and other songbirds.

Leaf eating and piercing and sucking insects commonly feed on Hackberry but are generally not serious problems. Hackberry can handle moderate shade but will grow into a poorly formed tree as a result. The main concern with the use of Hackberry in southwestern Ontario, is planting Hackberry in sites that are free from flooding and/or poor drainage.

Honeylocust
Gleditsia triacanthos L.

Honeylocust in the wild form is a very rare tree in southwestern Ontario, native to only a small area in southern Essex County. Mostly, the landscape trade will grow the thornless varieties of Honeylocust to minimize the pains of working with this tree. Honeylocust typically range in heights of 15-20 metres and reach a maximum life span of 150 years. Honeylocust is a very unique appearing tree, resembling the acacias of the African savannahs. Its canopies are widespread with branching patterns growing in a zig-zag appearance. The leaves and leaflets are small and short. It has smooth shiny bark when young, becoming grey, deeply furrowed with scaly ridges at maturity.

In the native areas in which these Honeylocust grow, they prefer sandy soils or moist clay loams. Growth can be poor when planted on gravelly or heavy clay soils. Although Honeylocust requires sufficient soil moisture, it is also very resistant to drought.

Honeylocust produce long, twisty pods of fruit which consist of 10-20 beans within. This fruit is very attractive to cottontails, gray squirrels, deer, opossum and various birds. The use of Honeylocust is an excellent choice for the creation of windbreaks and is very tolerant to salts that are associated with roadways. Honeylocust is relatively free of significant pests and problems making it a good choice for tree planting within this region.

Black Walnut
Juglans nigra L.

The Black Walnut tree is one of our most coveted native hardwoods of this region in regards to its value in the lumber trade. It can grow to be a large tree reaching heights of 20-30 metres. It is known to be a messy tree due to the large nuts it drops to the ground and its often early leaf fall.

Within southwestern Ontario, Black Walnut can be found to grow on a variety of soil types. Its best growth is found to be on well-drained neutral soils that are generally moist and fertile. On heavier soils, it can be found to do well on slopes above flood plains and elevated positions. The fruit of Black Walnut is highly desired by squirrels, small rodents and deer.

Black Walnut is intolerant to shade and its growth will suffer if competing greatly with grasses and other weeds. It is very susceptible to a disease known as Walnut Anthracnose, which begins during the wet spring weather. Its symptoms become obvious in July and August when much of its leaves drop to the ground, but very rarely harm the tree as a result. Deer will rub its antlers along the young trunks of small trees and mice and rabbits will gnaw on the stems of young trees throughout the winter months.

Eastern Red Cedar
Juniperus virginiana L.

Other than the small isolated patches of White Pine dotted throughout Essex, Chatham-Kent and Lambton county, Red Cedar is the most dominant native evergreen of these counties. These trees can reach heights up to 20 metres and are viewed as a welcome relief to the landscape during the long barren months of winter. During the summer months, the leaves of this evergreen are dark green, almost black and in the winter can cast a purplish hue to the landscape.

Red Cedar will grow on a variety of soils, ranging from dry rock outcrops to wet swampy land. In the Essex region, it was originally restricted from the sandy areas of the Lake Erie shores but now has naturalized its way throughout Essex county appearing throughout fencerows, abandoned fields and pastures. Red cedar is extremely sensitive to shade, where even light shade will initiate a decline. Red Cedar is an excellent choice for windbreaks. It does a remarkable job in protecting the soils from wind erosion and reduces the desiccating effects of the wind. Red Cedar can also withstand extreme drought, heat and cold making itself the wisest of choices for evergreen planting in southwestern Ontario.

Red Cedar is extremely important to wildlife. It provides good nesting habitats for many birds. The fruit of Red Cedar, small berries, are eaten by pheasants, rabbits, foxes, skunks and opossums. Red Cedar is the preferred host for a disease known as Cedar-apple rust. This disease, shared among the Cedars and Apples, does not significantly harm Cedars but will cause problems among local apple trees. It is recommended that this tree not be planted in close proximity to apple orchards.

Tuliptree
Liriodendron tulipifera L.

Tuliptree or Tulip-poplar trees are one of the most attractive and tallest hardwood trees of the eastern hardwoods. This tree can reach heights exceeding 30 metres on ideal sites. The leaves of Tuliptree are very distinct, somewhat displaying the profile of a tulip. The most distinguishing feature of this tree are the yellow flowers that emerge in its canopy in June.

Tuliptree grows best on slightly acidic, sandy soils or loams. These soils are well drained and loose in texture, suggesting that the use of this tree in southwestern Ontario to be limited. Tuliptree will perform poorly in very wet or very dry situations.

Young Tuliptree twigs and branches are known to attract deer while rabbits are also known to eat the bark and buds of seedlings and saplings. Tuliptree has weaker wood which tends to break during periods of ice and heavy wind storms.

White Pine
Pinus strobus L.

White Pine is one of the most valuable trees in eastern North America within the lumber trade and is our largest native evergreen reaching heights of 60 metres, but less than half of that locally. Its long slender needles are arranged in bundles of five, one of many key features in distinguishing it from the other pines. The cones of White Pine are long and curved containing an abundance of seeds within.

White Pine can grow on a variety of soils within its range but generally competes best on well drained sandy soils that are low to medium in site quality. White Pine will also grow on fine sandy loams with either good or impeded drainage. Surprisingly, White Pine can be found on clay soils and on poorly drained soils containing surface mounds but generally speaking, heavy clay should be avoided all together when planting White Pine.

The seeds within the cones of White Pine provide food to birds and small animals. Deer will enjoy browsing the stems and foliage. White Pine is intermediate in shade tolerance and this should be considered before using it in any planting scheme.

Trembling Aspen
Populus tremuloides Michx.

The Trembling Aspen is the most widely distributed tree in North America. In these regions it is considered a medium size tree reaching heights of 20 metres or more. It has received its name from the flat petioles or leaf stalks that are attached to the leaf. These petioles are very sensitive to winds and with the slightest breeze, the leaves will "tremble" and shake unveiling their paler shades of green underneath the leaf surface. Young Trembling Aspen has smooth pale green to white bark which becomes dark with furrowed ridges and diamond shaped markings with age.

Trembling Aspen grows on a variety of soils from sandy, gravelly slopes to shallow, rocky or heavy clays. In these regions, it prefers our lighter soils - the moist loams. Heavy clays will not promote the best growth due to the limited available water and poor aeration. It is intolerant of shading and is found to be an aggressive pioneer species invading abandoned sites such as old fields, prairies or edges of woodlots.

Trembling Aspen provides great value to wildlife. Browsing deer enjoy its foliage and both rabbits and mice prefer to sample the bark, sometimes girdling and killing young trees altogether. It is an aesthetically pleasing tree to the eye as its light bark and autumn colours are a welcome contrast to the barren fields.

Unfortunately Trembling Aspen is quite susceptible to an array of living and non-living factors. Diseases such as blights, cankers and wood rots can take its toll on these trees, but are mainly more susceptible to these problems when planted on improper sites. A few insects such as the Forest Tent Caterpillar and Poplar Borer can do significant damage. Other problems are the increased likelihood of branch failure in wind and ice storms due to its weaker wood.

Swamp White Oak
Quercus bicolor Willd.

The Swamp White Oak is a common tree in these regions and can be found wherever the ground is saturated for part of the year. It is a medium sized tree reaching heights of 15-23 metres. It differs from White Oak in that it has long-stalked acorns and the absence of deeply lobed leaves. The most noticeable difference is that the underside of Swamp White Oak is slightly hairy and whitish in colour offering a nice contrast on a breezy day.

Swamp White Oak grows on a variety of sites but has adapted well to high water tables with poor soil aeration. It will not tolerate sites that experience permanent flooding. Swamp White Oak is also classed as intermediate in tolerance to shade, but seedlings will establish themselves under moderate shade.

Large crops of sweet acorns of Swamp White Oak are produced every two to three years. They are enjoyed by mallard and wood ducks, deer, rodents and squirrels. Swamp White Oak is a tough tree, resistant to many environmental stresses such as soil compaction, salt, heat, drought and temporary flooding.

Bur Oak
Quercus macrocarpa Michx.

Bur Oak trees are a large sized tree reaching heights of 18-30 metres. It has received its name from the bristle-like hairs that protrude from the acorn's cap, the largest acorns of all the native oaks. Its leaves are fan shaped, deeply lobed and tapering down to a narrow lower end. In these regions, Bur Oak can reach ages of 200-300 years but is known to be a slow grower. It has a short, tremendous trunk with huge reaching horizontal limbs.

Bur Oak prefers a slightly higher pH or neutral soil found in the clay soils of this region. It tolerates seasonal flooding and at the same time is one of the most drought resistant trees of all the oaks. It is classed as intermediate in tolerance to shade.

Like Swamp White Oak, Bur Oak produces good seed crops every two to three years. These acorns are a main staple for squirrels, ducks and deer. Like many of the other oaks, Bur Oak does attract many insects and diseases but nothing to serious that will harm the tree significantly.

Pin Oak
Quercus palustris Muenchh.

Pin Oak is a fast growing, medium sized tree reaching heights of 15-25 metres. Its name is thought to be derived from the occurrence of short, pin-like branches that protrude on the main lateral limbs. Others believe it is associated with the many "pin knots" that are found in the lumber. The leaves of Pin Oak are wide and spreading, have five to seven lobes with wide u-shaped notches. The bark is thin and grey when young turning into shallow furrowed ridges with age.

Pin Oak occurs mainly on poorly drained soils such as swamps, flood plains and clay soils. Generally speaking, if the soil is moist, Pin Oak will adapt but does require acidic soils. It will not grow on sites that are covered with standing water through much of the growing season. Pin Oak is intolerant of shade.

Pin Oak acorns are important food for wood and mallard ducks during their fall migration. They are also important to deer, squirrels, small rodents, blue jays and woodpeckers. Like the other oaks, good seed production is found every two to three years.

The main concern with Pin Oak is planting into soil with the correct pH. If the pH is too high or too alkaline, a phenomenon known as "induced chlorosis" will hamper its development. The other typical insects and diseases that affect other Oaks do exist with Pin Oak but again, nothing that would deter planting this tree.

Red Oak
Quercus rubra L.

Red Oak is a moderate to fast growing tree reaching heights of 20-30 metres. The "red" refers to the reddish tinge of the wood when cut. The bark of Red Oak is moderately thick, grey and smooth. Its leaves have seven to nine lobes which are bristly tipped. The upper side of the leaf is dull yellowish-green and paler underneath.

Red Oak prefers to grow on moist loams and clay loam soils. It is intolerant of competition from other trees and their shade, although Red Oak is moderately shade tolerant when young.

Red Oak acorns are consumed by insects, squirrels, small rodents, deer and other birds. On a good crop year, more than eighty percent of the crop can be consumed by these organisms. On lean crop years, one hundred percent of the crop can be consumed.

Red Oak is tolerant to pollution and salt but sensitive to compaction. Like the other oaks, it is susceptible to an array of diseases and parasites, the most famous being the gypsy moth.

Basswood
Tilia americana L.

Basswood can be a medium to large, fast growing tree reaching heights of 17-25 metres. It has soft white wood which makes it very workable. The bark is smooth, dark grey when young becoming deeply furrowed with age. Its leaves are unique, being heart shaped and sharply toothed. From mid-June to mid-July Basswood flowers and are quite fragrant.

Basswood is common among ravines, shoreline, swamps, fencerows, flood plains and riverbanks. It enjoys wetter, moist sites but can be found in sandy loams sites as well. It plants well on abandoned farmland sites but does prefer a light overhead canopy to control the competing vegetation, deeming it tolerant of shade. Basswood sprouts from the base of the trunk prolifically and should be managed for, if saw logs are to be obtained from these trees.

Basswood is considered a honey-tree among the bees and other insects, since its flowers produce an abundance of nectar for choice honey. Browsers enjoy the succulent leaves of Basswood including the buds and twigs. The most destructive rodent to this tree is the meadow vole who can completely girdle the trunk of young Basswood during the winter months while working under a blanket of snow. Reducing the weeds and vegetation or habitat for this rodent around Basswood prior to winter onset, will reduce the amount of rodent damage come spring. Basswood seeds are eaten by mice, squirrels, chipmunks and quail.

Literature Cited

  • Croxton, W.C. 1939. A study of the tolerance of trees to breakage by ice accumulation. Ecology 20: 71-73.
  • Farrar, J.L. 1995. Trees in Canada. Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, ON. 502 p.
  • Kershaw, L. 2001. Trees of Ontario, Including Tall Shrubs. Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB. 240 p.
  • Sinclair, W.A., H.H. Lyon and W.T. Johnson. 1987. Diseases of Trees and Shrubs. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 575 p.
  • Waldron, G.E. 1997. The Tree Book. Project Green Incorporated, Windsor, ON. 219 p.
  • Waldron, G.E. 2003. Trees of the Carolinian Forest. Boston Mills Press, Erin, ON. 275 p.
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