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Native Trees, Shrubs, and Grasses for Urban Coastal Landscapes

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There are many challenges to planting in residential and urban spaces in Coastal North Carolina. Compacted soil, drought, and poor plant selection can lead to short life spans for newly installed plants. Many native plants can perform well in these conditions and provide a host of ecosystem services and wildlife benefits.

This list provides suggestions for native shrubs, trees, and grasses that may do well in residential and urban settings. Care should be taken to assess water and light needs when choosing a plant for a site. More information on these plants can be found in the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/

Large Trees- 50+’ tall at maturity

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Form Notes
Bald Cypress Taxodium distichum 50-70’ 20-30’ Columnar Drought tolerant once established
Pond Cypress Taxodium distichum var. imbricarium 30-50’ 15-20’ Columnar More narrow and shorter than Bald Cypress
Long Leaf Pine Pinus palustris 60-100’ 30-40’ Rounded Best planted in groupings
Overcup Oak Quercus lyrata 35-60’ 35-60’ Rounded Very urban tolerant
Nutall Oak Quercus texana 30-60’ 30-60’ Rounded Works as a street or shade tree
Live Oak Quercus virginiana 40-80’ 30-100’ Spreading Iconic SE NC tree, ‘Cathedral’ cultivar is smaller
Laurel Oak/Darlington Oak Quercus hemisphaerica 40-60’ 30-40’ Pyramidal Works as a street tree or shade tree
Swamp White Oak Quercus bicolor 50-60’ 50-60’ Rounded Tolerant of compacted soil and drought
Pin Oak Quercus palustris 50-70’ 40-60’ Oval Tolerates heat, air pollution and compacted soil
Shumard oak Quercus shumardii 50-70’ 30-40’ Pyramidal Tolerates pollution and compacted soil, beautiful fall color
Cherrybark oak Quercus pagoda 90-100’ 30-70’ Rounded Adaptable to drier sites, can be a shade or street tree
Southern Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora 60-80’ 30-50’ Conical Many Cultivars, highly wind tolerant
Tulip Poplar Liriodendron tulipifera 80-100’ 30-60’ Pyramidal Fast growing, high wildlife value

 Medium Trees- 20-35’ at Maturity

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Form Notes
Eastern Redcedar Juniperus virginiana 30-40’ 10-20’ Pyramidal Very drought and salt tolerant
Sweetbay Magnolia Magnolia virginiana 10-30’ 10-20’ Columnar Excellent substitute for Crepe Myrtle
Dahoon Holly Ilex cassine 20-30’ 10-15’ Oval Better with irrigation
American Holly Ilex opaca 40-60’ 10-20’ Conical Extremely urban tolerant
River Birch Betula nigra 30-70’ 40-60’ Open Good for narrow spaces, interesting bark
Black Gum Nyssa sylvatica 40-60’ 20-35’ Rounded Tolerant of compacted soils, fruitless cultivars available
American Hornbeam/Ironwood Carpinus carolinana 20-30’ 20-30’ Oval Adaptable to a variety of sites, not a street tree
Thornless Honey Locust Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis ‘Skyline’ 40-45’ 30-40’ Pyramidal Tolerates wet and dry sites, salt, compacted soil
Southern Magnolia cultivars Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’, ‘Kay Parris’, others 60-80’ 20-30’ Columnar Best placed in a landscape, many smaller cultivars available

Smaller/Understory Trees- 15-25’ at maturity

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Form Notes
Redbud Cersis canadensis 20-30’ 25-35’ Rounded Does best as an understory tree, needs supplemental irrigation in full sun
Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea 15-25’ 10-15’ Upright, multistem Spring blooming
American Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus 12-30’ 12’-20’ Rounded Smaller tree with beautiful white bloom
Carolina Cherry Laurel Prunus caroliniana 15-35’ 15-20’ Small tree or large shrub Enormous wildlife value, can be maintained as a hedge

 

Shrubs

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Habit Notes
Dwarf Palmetto Sabal minor 2-5’ 4-6’ Evergreen Drought, salt tolerant. Provides interesting texture
Adam’s Needle Yucca filamentosa 2-3’ 2-3’ Evergreen Extremely drought tolerant, colorful cultivars
Dwarf Yaupon Holly Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’ 4-5’ 4-5’ Evergreen Drought and salt tolerant, dwarf cultivar is more formal in appearance
Dwarf Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera ‘Don’s Dwarf’ 4-6’ 4-6’ Evergreen Tolerates wet and dry sites, salt tolerant, dwarf cultivar
Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera 10-20’ 8-10’ Evergreen Tolerant of wet sites and salt, wildlife value
Inkberry Holly Ilex glabra ‘Little Gem’ and others 4-6’ 3-4’ Evergreen Good substitute for Boxwoods
American Beautyberry Callicarpa americana 3-6’ 3-6’ Deciduous Beautiful purple berries in fall, great for wildlife
Yaupon Holly Ilex vomitoria 10-20’ 8-12’ Evergreen Red berries in fall, salt and drought tolerant
Carolina Cherry Laurel Prunus caroliniana 15-35’ 15-20’ Evergreen Enormous wildlife value, can be kept as a hedge
Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia 15-25’ 10-20’ Deciduous Beautiful red flowers favored by hummingbirds
Sweet Pepperbush Clethra alnifolia 3-5’ 3-5’ Deciduous Many beautiful cultivars available
Virginia Sweetspire Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’ 5-6’ 5-6’ Deciduous Tolerate a wide variety of soils
Dwarf Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa ‘Ground Hug’ 1-3’ 1-2’ Deciduous Drought and salt tolerant
Arrowwood Viburnum Viburnum dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’ 5-10’ 5-10’ Deciduous Tolerates a variety of soils, smaller cultivars available
Anise Shrub Illicium floridanum 15-20’ 10-20’ Evergreen Moderately drought tolerant, fast growing
Oakleaf Hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia 8-12’ 6-8’ Deciduous May do better with part shade
Possumhaw Holly Ilex decidua 7-15’ 5-12’ Deciduous Heat, drought, and soil compaction tolerant

 Grasses

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Notes
Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium 1-3’ 1-2’ Beautiful cultivars available, ‘Heavy Metal’
Muhlygrass Muhlenbergia capillaris 2-3’ 2-3’ Drought and salt tolerant, looks great planted in masses
Switchgrass Panicum virgatum 2-5’ 3-4’ Drought and salt spray tolerant
Purple Lovegrass Eragrostis spectabilis ~1’ ~1’ Does well in sandy soils
Wiregrass Aristida stricta 1-2’ 1-2’ Beautiful feathery texture