Anyone living on the Plains knows firsthand the comfort provided by a shade tree on a hot summer day. Just try to imagine camping or picnicking with no trees around to provide shade. Yikes! Incredibly, it has been calculated that a large shade tree has as much cooling potential as ten large air conditioners. Although every tree provides at least some shade, the type and quality of the shade can be quite different among species:
Bur Oak: Perhaps the most majestic of the native trees, bur oak can grow to be over 50 feet tall and more than 70 feet wide. Just one or two of these long-lived trees could easily provide all the shade necessary for a big backyard.
Honeylocust: Compound leaves with tiny leaflets provide a filtered or “dappled” shade making it easier to grow other landscape plants under this tree.
Linden: Drooping branches, an upright pyramidal form, and heavy shade from tightly packed leaves makes this a better choice for the background than where activity is planned. Linden is a favorite host of the cicadas and thus a major source of the summer “buzzing” sound.
Elm/Hackberry: The architecture of these related species is upright when young and arching with age, making them ideal for shade along streets and where activities are planned.
Sugar Maple: A classic rounded form with fairly dense shade. This is one of the more beautiful shade trees when mature.
Cottonwood (in photos): Who hasn’t enjoyed the shade of a cottonwood on a hot summer day? The soft rustling of the leaves is also an attractive feature of this native tree.