Common South Carolina Trees

Bald Cypress

Landscape Significance

Bald cypress grows in and along flowing water and is suitable for a rain garden.  Cypress trees are harvested for two major products: durable timber and landscape mulch.

Cypress swamps provide habitat to many wildlife species, including some that are rare and endangered. They also create a favorable habitat for large mammals, and many birds.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
This photo was taken in the fall at Trident Technical College, N. Charleston, SC.

A conifer native to coastal swamps, its foliage is fine and fernlike and turns color in the fall.  It sheds its leaves in winter, hence the “bald” cypress name. Cypress can live for hundred of years and is said to be the largest tree in North America east of the Rockies. In the United States, cypress's only other relatives are the Sequoia and Sequoiadendron genera, which include the redwoods of California.

Bald cypress grows to 150 feet tall and more than 6 feet in diameter. It can grow well on high ground, but its thin bark make it very susceptible to forest fires.

Identifying characteristics

Leafy branchlets have tiny, simple, flat, 1/2 to 3/4 inches long leaves (needles) growing at right angles on either side of the twig. Leaves are bright green in spring and coppery brown in fall. Trunks are flared at the bottom and look like folds of a skirt. Bark is gray, coarse, and peels in strips. On wet sites bald cypress forms aboveground structures known as "knees." 


Landscape Significance

Crape myrtle is valued mainly for its long period of striking summer flowers.

It can be planted as a specimen or in groups, and looks attractive when underplanted with a ground cover; the dark green of the groundcover contrasts well with the handsome bark.

Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
This photo was taken on Gregg Drive, James Island, SC.

Although it is not native to North America, this summer-flowering, deciduous small tree is a favorite among Southern gardeners because of its beauty and low maintenance. It has been called the lilac of the south.  Large clusters of showy flowers appear on the tips of new branches beginning in early summer and continue into fall. After flowers fade and fall from the tree, fruit remains in the form of small brown capsules. These fruits remain throughout the winter. The plant typically develops several main stems.

The height range is from 10 to 30 feet, and width range is 15 to 25 feet. The ideal planting site is with full sun exposure and good air circulation. This drought tolerant tree loves summer heat and needs sun to meet its full flowering potential. Crapemyrtles planted in partial or full shade will have reduced flowering and increased disease susceptibility. It has few insect pests, but powdery mildew is a common problem.

Identifying characteristics

In an opposite leafe arrangement, the lustrous green oval leaves are 2 to 4" long. The large spectacular flowers form in large panicles ranging from from 6 to 8 inches in length and 3 to 5 inches in width and white to purple in color. The delicate paper thin petals have a crinkled appearance like crepe paper. The exfolliating bark creates a beautiful smooth trunk that looks like it has been shaved.

More information on the Crapemyrtle is available at the Clemson Home & Garden Informaton Center: Clemson HGIC - Crapemyrtle

Eastern Redbud

Landscape Significance

The Eastern Redbud's native habitat ranges from stream bank to dry ridge, demonstrating its adaptability.

This tree is best used in naturalized areas, where the flowers are contrasted against evergreens or woodlands. It can be used as a specimen or in groupings in a shrub border.


Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
This photo was taken in the fall at Trident Technical College, N. Charleston, SC.

Eastern Redbud, also called Judas-tree, is a small deciduous tree native to the eastern United States. Its form is a spreading single to multi-stem tree.  Its magenta buds open to purple-pink blossoms early in spring before the leaves emerge.  The blossoms are as colorful as any flowering spring tree in the landscape. This tree is adapted to all areas of South Carolina.

Redbuds always remain small, maturing at 20 to 30 feet in height and 15 to 35 feet in width. When grown in the sun, it will be compact and rounded; when grown in shade, the form is loose, open and tall.  Irrigation may be needed in summer dry spells.

With thin bark, Canker is the most destructive disease. Insects such as treehoppers, caterpillars, scales and leafhoppers can also cause damage. Due to disease, they rarely live longer than 20 years.

Identifying characteristics

Its 4 to 8 inch-long leaves are heart-shaped with smooth margins arranged alternately .  They are reddish in the spring and gradually turn dark green in summer. Pea-like, rosy-pink flowers appear from late March to mid April.  The fruit are long, flat pods (3 inches) which are produced from late summer into fall, and remain on the tree during winter.

More information on the Eastern Redbud is available at the Clemson Home & Garden Informaton Center: Clemson HGIC - Eastern Redbud

Live Oak

Landscape Significance

The small acorns are very dark when ripe, and are primary food for many wildlife species along the coast.

It will do well as a lawn specimen provided it is given plenty of space.

This photo was taken of a 200+ year-old live oak on Fort Sumter Drive, James Island, SC.

The live oak is probably best known for its massive horizontal limbs that give old trees their majestic character. The leaves remain intact through the winter, then yellow and drop in spring as new leaves expand. The green waxy leaves are resistant to salt spray.

One of the longest-lived oaks, it may live 200 to 300 years, growing 40 to 80 feet tall and 60 to 100 feet wide. The trunk can grow to more than six feet in diameter. It tolerates cold extremes up through the Piedmont (not the mountains), but will grow more slowly and may suffer from ice storm damage. Once established, it is drought-resistant.

Live oak is susceptible to leaf blister but it does no appreciable harm.

Identifying characteristics

Simple green leaves are spirally arranged, and are elliptic to ovate-shaped. The underside of the leaf is whitish-grey. Bark is gray to reddish brown, scaly, and vertically furrowed. Slim yellow-green cylindrical stalks of blossoms appear in spring. Fruits are acorns to 1 inch long, sometimes in pairs, with a shallow cup enclosing the bottom quarter.

More information about the live oak is available at the Clemson Home & Garden Informaton Center: Clemson HGIC - Live Oak

River Birch

Landscape Significance

The graceful elegance of the birch allows it to be used as a specimen or for naturalizing, and is best used in large areas.

It is very well-suited for planting along steam banks and in other areas which are inundated with water for weeks at a time. River birch is seen in the wild almost exclusively along stream banks.

River Birch (Betula nigra)
This photo was taken at Trident Technical College, N. Charleston, SC.

Native to the southeastern United States, River Birch is considered the most widely adapted of all the birches, and hardy throughout South Carolina.  It tends to divide into large, arching branches, forming a graceful silhouette.  One of the most appealing features of the birch is the ex-foliating bark, which is scaly, beige or creamy white. In fall, the foliage turns yellow before the leaves drop.

This deciduous tree grows 90 feet in height and spreads 30 to 50 feet at a medium to rapid rate. Birches situated in moist areas thrive and are long-lived, but it tolerates fairly dry soils once it is established. It requires acidic soils, suffering from iron deficiency if pH levels are 6.5 or higher. This species requires full sun and tolerates high temperatures. No pests or diseases are of major concern.

Identifying characteristics

The simple, alternate leaves are generally diamond-shaped, about one to three inches long and one to two inches wide. The flowers are two to three inch long reddish-green stalks that appear in the spring. The reddish brown fruits are cone-like, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, with many hairy scales, and contain many tiny, three-winged seeds. They ripen and break apart in the fall. River birch is distinguished by reddish, brown bark peeling off in film-like papery curls

More information on the River Birch is available at the Clemson Home & Garden Information Center: Clemson HGIC - River Birch

Savannah Holly

Landscape Significance

Often used as a screening plant, this tall, narrow holly is suitable for areas where plant width is a consideration.

The American Indians used preserved berries as decorative buttons and used as barter. The wood has been used for canes and furniture.

Savannah Holly (Ilex attenuate 'Savannah')
This photo was taken at Trident Technical College, N. Charleston, SC.

Savannah Holly is a beautifully shaped evergreen tree, with a narrow, open pyramidal to columnar form.  It bears a heavy crop of red berries that persist during fall and winter when both male and female trees are both planted.  A native tree, it grows fast up to 30 feet with a spread of 6 to 10 feet.

This plant gives the best berry production when planted in the sun, but also does adequately in part shade. Savannah holly is drought tolerant, generally pest free and is not normally infected with disease.

Identifying characteristics

The spiny, dull, dark green leaves are 2 to 4" long, have wavy margins and are alternately arranged on green twigs. Heavy clusters of red berries appear in the fall.

Southern Magnolia

Landscape Significance

This tree is valued for many features: beautiful, fragrant flowers; dark lustrous leaves; striking fruit and overall size and stature.  The fruit fall in November and December and is attractive to wildlife.

The Southern magnolia requires a lot of space, and should be reserved for large properties.

Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
This photo was taken at Trident Technical College, N. Charleston, SC.

The southern magnolia is one of the most striking and characteristic trees of the deep South. It has large, leathery evergreen leaves and large white showy flowers that appear in the spring. It is densely pyramidal, symmetrical and low-branching when young.

The Southern magnolia will grow 60 to 80 feet tall and 30 to 50 feet wide. This tree is mostly problem-free. Scales may infest leaves and twigs. In humid climates, leaves may develop leaf spots.

Identifying characteristics

Leaves are large (5 to 10 inches long, 3 to 4 inches wide) and usually dark, lustrous green on the upper side.  The lower side may be light green, fuzzy reddish-brown or even silvery. The flower is creamy white, large (8 to 12 inch diameter), solitary and very fragrant. The fuzzy, brown cone-like fruit is 3 to 8 inches long. The bright red-orange seeds are exposed September through November. The bark is smooth and silvery-gray.

More information about magnolias is available at the Clemson Home & Garden Informaton Center: Clemson HGIC - Southern Magnolia

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