Planting the right trees in urban landscapes offers numerous environmental benefits, from reducing water runoff to supporting native wildlife and improving air quality. Here’s a closer look at 10 great street trees for urban landscapes, including the environmental value of each tree and their cooling effects on neighborhoods:

Small Street Trees (Under 30 feet):

Shorter trees are more suited than taller trees for placement in smaller sidewalk margins or near utility lines. It’s still important to use your judgement to determine if trees are appropriate for your particular space.

If there is room, you should always plant a tree.

Here are some great recommendations if you’re in need of smaller trees:

Chalk Maple (Acer leucoderme): Native to southeastern U.S., including Chattanooga, this tree helps reduce water consumption and runoff due to its deep root system.

It supports local bird species, such as the Eastern Bluebird, and provides nectar for pollinators. Chalk Maple’s leaves capture pollutants and fine particulates, contributing to cleaner air.

Did you know that the Chalk Maple’s shade can lower temperatures up to 9°F in urban areas, creating a cooler environment?

Dogwood (Cornus florida): This tree’s spring blooms provide nectar for bees and butterflies, enhancing local pollination. Its berries are a food source for various birds, while its dense foliage offers nesting sites.

Dogwood’s root system aids in soil stabilization, reducing erosion.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis): A haven for pollinators like bees and butterflies, the Redbud’s flowers contribute to healthy ecosystems. Redbud seeds attract squirrels and small mammals, supporting local wildlife.

The tree’s roots help prevent soil compaction and erosion.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.): The Serviceberry’s flowers entice pollinators, and its berries attract birds like the Cedar Waxwing.

This tree’s dense growth provides shelter for small animals, while its root system improves soil structure and moisture retention.

American Holly (Ilex opaca): Native to the region, this evergreen tree offers year-round shelter for birds, such as the Northern Cardinal. Its berries are a winter food source for wildlife.

The holly’s dense canopy helps mitigate air pollution and provides shade.

Larger Street Trees (Over 30 feet):

Large trees benefit people and wildlife in many ways.

Benefits For People:

  • Shade and Coolness: Big trees offer shade, making areas cooler and more comfortable.
  • Cleaner Air: Trees absorb bad air and give out clean oxygen, helping us breathe better.
  • Aesthetic Value: Tall trees look nice and make neighborhoods more attractive.
  • Less Noise: Trees reduce noise from traffic, making places quieter.
  • Mental health: Being around trees helps us feel less stressed and happier.

Benefits For Wildlife:

  • Safe Homes: Big trees give wildlife and pollinators safe places to live and hide.
  • Food: Trees make fruits, nuts, and seeds that animals eat.
  • Nests: Birds make nests in trees to lay eggs and raise babies.
  • Rest Stops: Trees help birds during long trips by giving them places to rest.
  • Helping Ecosystems: Trees keep nature balanced by controlling temperature and water.
  • Flowers for Insects: Trees with flowers give insects food, helping plants grow.

Due to their size and long evolution with native wildlife, butterfly, and insect species, large trees provide the most value to an ecosystem of any trees.

If at all possible, plant a future large tree today.

Here is an incredible resource where you can discover native trees based on your location, ranked by the number of butterfly and moth species that use them as host plants for their caterpillars.

Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata): Suitable for larger spaces away from power lines, the Southern Red Oak supports diverse bird species and provides acorns for squirrels and deer.

Its expansive canopy helps reduce stormwater runoff, allowing rainwater to be absorbed into the soil.

This tree’s cooling effect can lower temperatures up to 10°F, offering significant relief from heat.

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera): Requires ample room to grow, the Tulip Poplar’s nectar-rich flowers attract bees and hummingbirds. Its large size supports cavity-nesting birds like woodpeckers.

Its roots stabilize soil, reducing erosion and improving water quality.

The Tulip Poplar’s shade can cool temperatures up to 12°F, transforming the urban landscape.

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua): Planted away from sidewalks due to its potential for surface roots, the Sweetgum captures pollutants with its leaves.

Its seeds are a food source for songbirds, while its dense foliage provides shade and shelter.

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis): Thriving near water bodies, the Sycamore provides nesting sites for birds like the Great Blue Heron.

Sycamores are often found growing near water bodies like rivers and streams. They are considered riparian specialists because of their ability to stabilize riverbanks with their extensive root systems, helping to prevent soil erosion.

White Oak (Quercus alba): Flourishes in larger spaces, away from structures, the White Oak supports a variety of wildlife. Its acorns provide sustenance for animals like deer, turkeys, and squirrels.

The White Oak’s large canopy provides shade, reducing the urban heat island effect.

This majestic tree’s shade can cool temperatures up to 10°F, demonstrating its role as a natural temperature regulator.

By carefully selecting and incorporating these native street trees for urban landscapes, we can create resilient ecosystems that support local wildlife, improve air quality, and significantly reduce the impact of heat in our neighborhoods.

Trees not only beautify our surroundings but also act as nature’s air conditioning, fostering a more pleasant and sustainable urban environment.

If at all possible, plant a wildlife supporting native tree today.

Need help picking a tree for your space? Post a comment below or send me a message.