How To Identify The Most Common Trees in North Carolina

Learning to identify trees in North Carolina can be challenging because of the sheer number of species we have here. Did you know that the majority of homeowners can’t even recognize most of the trees in their own backyards? It’s much harder to care for and maintain the trees on your property if you don’t know exactly what they are. 

J&D Tree Pros is here to help. We’re sharing a list of the most popular trees here in North Carolina, so you can easily identify the trees on your property.


American Beech

The American Beech is a deciduous tree found all along the East Coast. They can be identified by their smooth, gray bark and dark green, oval leaves. Because they need lots of moisture and fertile soil, beech trees were once used as a sign of good farmland. 

These beautiful and slow-growing trees turn golden in fall. In winter, beech trees are easy to spot at a distance, as many pale tan dead leaves remain on the trees all season long.


Bradford Pear

Bradford Pears were originally planted as ornamental trees, because of their distinctive masses of white flowers, and quickly spread through the South. Now, however, many owners think of them as nuisances because of their blooms’ pungent smell.

 Bradford Pear trees are considered invasive species in North Carolina, originating from China and Vietnam. But, they’re still here because of their ability to thrive in varying soil and weather conditions like droughts, air pollution, and intense heat.


Crepe Myrtle

Crepe Myrtles are known for their smooth trunks and paper-thin sheets of bark. Their long-lasting flowers bloom during summer, making them popular for gardens and landscapes. Their crinkled flowers are like the texture of crepe paper and range in color from white to purple to red. Although Crepe Myrtles are tolerant of a wide variety of soils and conditions, they do best in full sun and moist soil.

If you plan to prune your Crepe Myrtle, it’s a good idea to take extra caution and call in the help of the experts. The team at J&D Tree Pros is adept at caring for these unique and delicate trees. We can keep your Crepe Myrtle properly pruned and looking great without causing any harm to it or your property.


Flowering Dogwood

Even though this plant has been named the state flower of North Carolina, the Dogwood is a tree, not a flower. It is one of the most common trees in North Carolina, found from the mountains to the coast. The Dogwood’s iconic blooms are small, tight clusters of green flowers surrounded by four very showy, large, white and occasionally pink petals that mature in early spring.

The tree is easy to grow in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. It prefers moist, organically rich, acidic soils in part shade.

Our best advice for caring for a Dogwood is to keep the roots cool and moist during the summer with a few inches of mulch. Your tree can withstand the hot North Carolina temperatures as long as the tree’s shallow roots remain moist under the mulch.


Hickory Tree

The Hickory tree can be identified by it’s serrated and oval-shaped leaves and it’s signature Hickory nuts. Hickory trees are notoriously slow-growing, making them one of the hardest tree species to transplant because of their long taproot. For this reason, they are often hard to find in nurseries. Hickory trees produce large nuts, some of which are edible, depending on the tree species.  

These trees are also prized for their wood, and Hickory is commonly used for tool handles, walking sticks, smoking meats, and much more.

Be mindful of the type of Hickory you have in your backyard. Although some are versatile enough to deal with conditions like dry or acidic soil, others are not able to manage adverse conditions.


Leyland cypress

If you enjoy your privacy while lounging at home, then you may have a few of these trees in your backyard. As a fast-growing evergreen, the Leyland Cypress is popular in parks and gardens and frequently used to form hedges and screens. These trees can grow 50 feet tall in as few as 15 years.

But because they often have shallow roots, Leyland Cypress trees are easily susceptible to toppling or breaking, especially in extreme weather conditions. If you’d like a Leyland Cypress removed from your property, call the team at J&D Tree Pros to get the job done right.


Loblolly Pine

The Loblolly Pine is a pine tree native to 15 states in the southeastern U.S. including North Carolina. With the ability to grow up to 115 feet high and five feet around, this tree can be identified by its gray, scaly bark and dark green needles that can grow to be anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in length. It is also called The Bull Pine, thanks to its giant size, and The Rosemary Pine, due to its fragrant resinous foliage.

It is an evergreen tree, also known as the “southern yellow pine.” This pine is the second most common tree in the country, followed by the Red Maple. Since this pine is commonly found in lowland and swampy areas, it was named “loblolly,” which means mudhole.


Magnolia Tree

The sight and smell of the blooming Magnolia tree are iconic to the American South. Southern magnolia has been widely planted as an ornamental or landscape tree across the state. With their shiny, broad leaves and large, creamy white flowers, it’s easy to see why magnolias are so popular.

 Magnolias are generally easy to care for as they do not need frequent pruning. But, this tree needs plenty of room to spread out as it can grow 70 feet tall, with a horizontal spread of 50 feet! 

To properly care for a magnolia, make sure it has lots of space to grow. Mulching a magnolia is also crucial to prevent erosion because of its shallow roots.


Oak Tree

There are nearly 600 different species of oaks, and oaks are easily identifiable thanks to their unique, spirally-arranged leaves and acorns. This tree species is seen all throughout North America, but is especially recognizable in Raleigh. The city is known as the “City of Oaks” for the oak trees that line the streets in the heart of the city.

 Because of their strength and their ability to thrive in several different environments, Oaks can live to be hundreds of years old as they grow into their massive trunks and long, slender limbs.


Red Maple

Perhaps one of the most striking native N.C. trees is the Red Maple. As its name implies, this tree’s foliage turns a vibrant red in the autumn season.  The Red Maple generally reaches heights of nearly 100-120 ft., and its signature red leaves range from 3 to 5-lobed, with each separated by distinct V-shaped angles.  

Known by many other names, this deciduous tree has also been referred to as the “swamp maple,” “water maple,” or “soft maple.” It is the most common tree in the United States, making appearances all along the East Coast.

If you have Red Maples on your property, note that these trees are very tolerant of most soils, but prefer a slightly acidic soil paired with moist conditions. However, their roots form a dense, fibrous network, which often prevents other plants from growing too close to the trunk. 


River Birch

River birch, or red birch as it sometimes is called, is the only native birch found at low elevations in the south. As its name implies, these trees are found along waterways, and in fertile soils throughout the state. The River Birch can be identified by its unique gray and brown bark that peels away in thin, papery sheets.

It’s one of the few species of birch trees that grow in the south because of its unique ability to handle the heat and flooding. Even though it can stand up to the heat, this tree does best in moisture-rich soils, as it will often lose leaves in dry weather and during the summers when the soil drains quicker. 

For homeowners, if your backyards have well-drained soil, you will often see your River Birches dropping yellow leaves during drier periods. Another note for caring for your River birch is to avoid pruning in the spring, because the tree’s sap tends to bleed out.



Sweetgum trees can be recognized by their star-shaped leaves that turn brilliant maroon, red, and orange in the fall. The tree can often become an annoyance to homeowners because of the sharp and finicky fruits they drop called burrs.

The name “sweetgum” comes from the gum-like substance that oozes when the branches or bark are wounded. Its ridged bark is similar to oak trees, which is why sweetgum is sometimes called “alligator wood.”

Often reaching heights of up to 120 feet, sweetgum trees generally grow very straight, making them excellent for lumber. These trees are found throughout the Southeast, predominantly in wet areas like swamps or river bottoms that are prone to flooding.


Yellow Poplar

The Yellow Poplar, or “tulip tree” is known for its vibrant yellow tulip-like flowers.

These trees bloom in the spring and, in their earliest stage, will have smooth, dark green bark. As they age, their bark acquires a more rough, rigid appearance that is brownish-gray in color. 

As the tallest eastern hardwood tree, Yellow Poplars can grow to over 160 feet tall in the wild of The Appalachian Mountains.

Even though they have a rather shallow root system, Yellow Poplars need to be planted in a large area. They prefer moist, slightly acidic soil and need to receive lots of sunshine to thrive.

Yellow poplar leaves are identified by their leaves with four large lobes. They are 5 to 6 inches long. They are about as broad as they are long. The two outer lobes often flattened into a squarish end. In autumn, the leaves of the yellow poplar turn from green to bright yellow and stand out from the leaves of other trees.

Unfortunately, this tree species can be a difficult one to care for as it is especially susceptible to problems with pests and disease. Because they grow so quickly, they are known as “weak-wooded,” meaning that ice and snow in the cold months can cause limbs to break off easily.


Trust J&D Tree Pros for All Your Tree Care Needs

 With such a wide variety of trees in North Carolina, homeowners need to know how to identify the trees to care for them properly. 

Find out how to properly care for, or remove, the trees around your home by calling J&D Tree Pros. We are proud to be one of North Carolina’s most reliable tree service experts, specializing in everything from pruning to removal and beyond.


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