Two native trees of the eastern American forests have leaves which you just can’t confuse with anything else. Both feature fine fall color (although they're now past their peak) and both make fine specimen trees for gardens, on both sides of the Atlantic.
On the left in the picture (click to enlarge) the quirkily lobed leaf of Sassafras albidum. Kids call it the mitten tree, especially as seedlings may only have two lobes. We have a dying tree – one huge woodpecker hole is causing it to rot from the inside – but it’s inside the deer fence so its seedlings are popping up all over. Outside the fence – none.
Ours all seem to color yellow or orange, some with a few purple veins, but fall color on other trees can be a vivid red. And although we have plenty of seedlings they’re almost impossible to transplant. Suckers seem to work better. And it insists on acid soil.
The tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera (above right), seems more widespread across the river from here in New Jersey although there are a couple of young trees by the side of the road a few miles away and farther afield in Pennsylvania it’s moved in to take the place of all the chestnuts that died of blight. Again, its leaves are very distinctive – but very different – and its fall color is yellow to old gold.
Tulip tree develops into impressive straight-trunked specimens, the tallest in our state is 133ft/40m. Sassafras develops into bushier specimens, half the size.
Both these trees have many other valuable features, but as fall fades these are two of the most distinctive trees of our local forests and impressive in gardens too – if you have the space.
British gardeners can order Sassafras albidum from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.
British gardeners can order Liriodendron tulipifera from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.
North American gardeners can order both these trees from Forest Farm, and they're also sometimes available from local conservation groups.