Flowering trees native to Kentucky appear in small varieties, such as the serviceberries with average heights of around 15 to 20 feet, to the magnificent magnolias that can grow to more than 100 feet tall. Native Kentucky flowering trees may develop different growth patterns under contrasting environmental conditions. For example, the bigleaf magnolia, deciduous in Kentucky, flourishes as a semi-evergreen in the Deep South.
Members of the pome-fruit group of trees in the rose family, the Amerlanchier genus has three species widespread across Kentucky. Known by the common name, serviceberry, or "sarvis" in Appalachia, species native to Kentucky are the Allegheny, downy, and shadblow serviceberries. All three produce white flowers in spring with the Allegheny grown as an ornamental. According to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, the shadblow serviceberry is the most cold hardy of the trio.
Another genus of flowering trees with three species spread across the state is the Magnolia. The Magnolia genus encompasses 100 or more species of trees and shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen. Known for their large, fragrant creamy white to yellowish flowers, they "were among the first flowering plants to appear on earth." Three species of Magnolia native to Kentucky are the bigleaf magnolia, the cucumber tree, and the umbrella magnolia. The cucumber tree, called the "most stately" of American deciduous magnolias can reach heights nearing 100 feet and spreads comparable to height.
The State Tree
A cousin to the magnolia, Kentucky's official state tree, the tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), bears flowers with pale green to yellowish petals on orange bases. Known in other parts of the world simply as the tulip tree, it garnered the common name "tulip poplar" from the name of its timber, "yellow poplar." This stately tree grows vigorously and often reaches heights of 100 feet or more with a 50-foot spread. The four-lobed leaves facilitate identification.
Two spring flowering trees known for their showy blooms are the flowering dogwood and the eastern redbud. The white bracts of the flowering dogwood and the profuse and striking array of deep rose buds and rosy pink flowers of the eastern redbud provide a striking contrast when developing simultaneously as they often do in Kentucky. (Following flowering the eastern redbud develops distinct heart-shaped leaves.) Another dogwood species native to the state, the pagoda, generally produces its fragrant cream-colored flowers later in the spring and is not as showy as the flowering dogwood.
Other Flowering Trees
In addition to those mentioned, Kentucky is home to a number of other flowering trees, some with significant flowering, such as the northern catalpa, the cockspur hawthorn, and the black cherry. (The black cherry, which can reach 100 feet heights or more, bears fragrant white flowers in spring, followed by small black fruit in autumn, which is consumed by a variety of birds and mammals.) Several of Kentucky's native flowering trees bear inconspicuous flowers, such as the honey locust, or are like the sassafras which has flowers with no petals. However, it is important to remember that members of the same species grown elsewhere may develop differently.