Steven Foster's Favorite Trees

Approximately 2,500 tree species thrive in North America; more than 600 are native. Discover these classic trees.

| March/April 2011

When Odysseus returned from Troy after a twenty-year absence, he found his aging father planting trees around his home. Odysseus asked, “Being so advanced in years, why would you put yourself to the fatigue and labor of planting trees whose fruits you are never likely to enjoy?” The old man, taking him for a stranger, gently replied, “I plant trees for the benefit of my son Odysseus.”

Trees have always played an important role in human affairs—one so intimate that these living giants are often neglected. Like the air we breathe, trees are just there. They provide humans with shade, shelter, materials for an incredible array of objects, fuel, food, medicine, and the oxygen on which we depend for our very breath. They make not only our lifestyles, but our very lives, possible. They also provide a gift for coming generations, because most trees long outlive our biblical lifespan of three score and ten years.

Approximately 2,500 tree species thrive in North America; more than 600 are native. If you don’t have a clue what to plant, seek professional advice. As Elder Frederick Evans, a Shaker leader, said in 1867, “A tree has its wants and wishes, and a person should study [trees] as a teacher watches a child to see what he can do. If you love the plant and take heed of what it likes, you will be well paid by it.”

The following are classic trees, and also some of my favorites.

Basswood: With a straight, pillar-like trunk sometimes reaching more than 120 feet in height, the American basswood or linden tree has long been appreciated for its deep shade, fast growth, pliable wood, and medicinal flowers.

Beech: One of the largest trees of eastern North American forests, the American beech is usually 70 to 80 feet tall but can stretch to 120 feet. Its sinewy trunk, standing like the leg of a giant elephant, is often 3 or 4 feet in diameter. The majestic American beech provides deep shade and excellent shelter against wind and sun.

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