Looking to the Sky: The Beauty of Bare Deciduous Trees



Zydeco Twist Black Gum: Photo by Paul Brothers

Zydeco Twist Black Gum:
Photo by Paul Brothers

When was the last time you stopped and gazed at the sky? There are a number of exquisite trees which you can plant that will encourage just such a moment, and—surprise!—they are deciduous.

The different shapes and shadows that bare branches can provide against the skyline can provide a moment of reflection, a frame in which to contemplate the blue, the clouds, or the moon and stars. In this article we separate unusual form from stunning color, with each section beginning with the larger specimen. Even without a lot of space, you can explore the outline and color of bare branches in your yard.

Unique Branch Formations 

Zydeco Twist Black Gum

The Zydeco Twist Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) is a very hardy tree that grows to approximately 20 feet high with a 15 foot spread. It can tolerate a range of soils, but does prefer full sun. If you are looking for fall color, look no further. A stunning red, this tree has a fall color that rivals Japanese Maples and Sugar Maples. The best part? The frame of the tree left against the sky (pictured above) in the fall. The twisted branches appear to dance into the sky, leaving the viewer to stare and watch the cold season pass.
harry-lauders-walking-stick
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick

Like the Zydeco Twist, but afraid the tree is too big for your space? Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus Avellana Contorta) is a smaller version with downturned curly branches. This tree grows at most to approximately ten feet, with a spread that is often equal to its height. Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick can make a stunning hedge, and because it can tolerate full sun and partial shade, is a low maintenance plant. The only downfall? This wonderful plant dislikes wet, clay bound soil.

Dramatic Color
white-himalayan-birch
White Himalayan Birch

The largest—and admittedly, the one requiring the most attention—tree on this list is the White Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii). A fast growing tree that can reach 40 feet in height and 30 feet in width, it has long been prized for the beauty of it’s white, rippled bark with dark notches. In the summer the tiny toothed oval leaves seem to celebrate one going outdoors, shaking delightfully in the wind. This Birch prefers direct sunlight and regular drinks of water. We have found that they like a good soak once a week in spring, and sometimes up to three waterings per week during our North Carolina humid August heat.
cayenne-dogwood
Cayenne Dogwood

The stunning red bark of the Cayenne Dogwood (Cornus amomum) appears the colder the weather becomes. It is highly adaptable to soil types, but requires full sun. It grows 6 to 8 feet tall, but at maturity has a wide spread of 10 feet. It takes well to pruning conducted in the early spring. With a moderate growth rate and full foliage throughout the warmer seasons, this plant is a spectacular choice to provide dramatic change in your garden’s form though the seasons.

BONUS ROUND: Unusual color and branch form

Do you have a small space, or live in a townhouse with a deck? Still want a stand out plant for gazing at the sky? Introducing one plant that not only has beautiful color and unique branch form, but also is highly unusual in North Carolina gardens:

Dwarf Bonfire Patio Peach (Also known as an Ornamental Japanese Peach)
dwarf-bonfire

This Patio Peach (prunus persica) is one of the few trees that can be planted in the ground or kept in a planter. Placed in the ground, the tree will reach about 6 feet tall, with an ultimate width of 8 feet. The size of the plant can easily be catered for smaller areas by keeping them in a planter, where the biggest they will grow is 4 feet, with a 6 foot width. While we have kept with the bare-bones theme of this article for the picture, emphasizing the elegant color changes and visible buds, this is a stunning tree year round. With dramatic small pink blossoms in the spring, oval green leaves in the early summer which slowly change to a dark crimson in the fall, there’s always a reason to go outside and admire your plants, the seasons, and… the sky.