What are Ornamental Trees?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ornamental trees are trees which are grown primarily for their aesthetic value, rather than for a particular product such as wood, fruit, or nuts. Many cultures all over the world have a long history of using ornamental trees in their landscaping, and it is common to see ornamental trees featured in gardens, along drives, and in downtown districts to add color and texture. Most garden stores sell ornamental trees, usually as juveniles, because young trees are easy to transport, handle, and plant.

Crabapples are a deciduous tree.
Crabapples are a deciduous tree.

Any number of features on an ornamental tree are appealing. Some are grown for their foliage, which may be distinctly colored or shaped, with people growing both evergreen and deciduous ornamental trees. Others are grown for showy displays of flowers, which may brighten up the garden in the spring. Colorful bark, distinctive growth patterns, and bright fruit may also be features of an ornamental tree.

Flowering trees are grown for their beautiful blossoms.
Flowering trees are grown for their beautiful blossoms.

In some cases, ornamental trees do produce fruit or nuts, although the crop is usually viewed as secondary to the aesthetics of the tree. It is also possible to find non-fruiting versions of trees which normally produce crops, such as ornamental cherries and plums, which will bloom in the spring but not set fruit. Many people like to use non-fruiting ornamentals because fallen fruit and nuts can make a big mess, and managing a fruit tree so that it produces a good crop can be labor intensive.

Deciduous trees like maples can produce stunning foliage in the fall, while crabapples, flowering dogwood, redbud, and magnolia all burst into bloom in the spring with stunning color. Ginkgos, myrtles, willows, firs, palms, and pines may be grown for their beautiful foliage, and various exotic and tropical trees may be used as ornamentals as well, in regions where these trees will thrive.

When selecting ornamental trees for the garden, a few considerations are important. The first issue is space. In a small garden, one tree is often enough, as multiple trees can make the garden feel cluttered and crowded. If the tree is being planted close to the house, final height may be a thing to think about, as you don't want the ornamental tree shading the house in the winter. Placement can also be critical, with some trees preferring bright sun, while others prefer more shady regions of the garden. Remember that even if the garden changes, the tree will not, so it is important to pick a spot which will work forever.

Deciduous trees produce stunning fall foliage.
Deciduous trees produce stunning fall foliage.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


It's a good point about the fruit. I do think that people should try to plant trees that will provide food and shelter and other benefits, as well as being flowering ornamental trees, just because it makes sense to me.

But, if you do plant, say fruiting cherry trees, you have to be prepared for a bit of mess. My friend lives in a valley with a lot of cherry trees and they have pigeons at them all through the season.

And, of course, the pigeons defecate all over the place. So, even though they don't have to deal with piles of rotting fruit directly, there are other drawbacks! Even if you are prepared to use a lot of the fruit, you should still take that into consideration.


@Mor - I would say that you should also keep shallow root systems in mind, depending on the weather conditions where you live.

If you have been planting ornamental trees with a shallow root systems and a strong wind or a storm comes through your neighborhood, you are going to end up with a lot of damage, particularly if they weren't placed in a sheltered location.

If the trees grow big enough they could even be dangerous.

Remember that even if that storm is once every 50 years, your tree and your house will probably still be around to suffer from it!


Another thing you should bear in mind when you are selecting an ornamental tree, is the root system of the tree, particularly as it is going to affect your plumbing, your foundations, your pathways and so forth.

Sometimes small ornamental trees can have massive root systems, or they might simply have root systems that run close to the surface and will disrupt your garden.

I know that San Francisco planted a lot of pohutukawa trees from New Zealand because they have beautiful red flowers in the summer and grow well near the ocean. Unfortunately, they didn't research enough to realize that the root system of that tree is quite large and runs close to the surface, so they are having to pull them up now to avoid damage to roads.

Always do your research before planting a tree.

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