Trees That Grow Old Gracefully

The trees on my list may not outlive California’s sequoias, but these are the trees that you can plant with a child and know with some certainty that the child will be able to come back two generations later and say with excitement, “I helped plant that tree when I was a kid.”

This is a lesson I learned from my dad, Dr. Omer Sperry, who co-founded the Range and Forestry Department at Texas A&M. I could drive you past 50 trees today (all oaks) that he and I planted together 60 years ago.

What specific trees would go on that “most durable” list here in Texas? It’s a Hall of Fame group, and we’ll work our way to the top.

Eastern redcedar junipers are our best-adapted conifers for big areas of Texas.

Eastern redcedar. If you want an evergreen with staying power, this Texas native is your best choice. It makes a great privacy screen.

Warrens Red possumhaw holly is a selection of a durable native.

Tree-form hollies and crape myrtles. If you train yaupon, Nellie R. Stevens or Warren’s Red possumhaw hollies to grow as trees (exposed trunks), they’ll make you great accent specimens for 75 to 100 years. You can do the same thing with taller varieties of crape myrtles.

Ginkgoes planted in a grouping will survive for decades.

Ginkgo. This northern shade tree also survives beautifully in Texas. It’s just slower-growing. Beautiful fall color (gold) and dramatic branching. 75 to 100 years.

Continued Below

Young Chinese pistachio will grow to be lovely shade tree.

Chinese pistachio. We haven’t had these for a full 100 years yet, but we’ve had them half that long, and they’re holding up wonderfully.

Cedar elm will frame entryway.

Cedar elm. You’ll find old natives growing in parks and on hillsides, and some of them must be pushing 100 years. This is the best of all elms for our area.

Southern magnolias are icons of the Gulf South.

Southern magnolia. Life expectancy with this tree will depend on the soil you have for it. With deep soil and constant moisture, count on it to live well past 100.

Pecans are among our largest shade trees.

Pecan. There are documented pecans that are more than 100 to 150 years old here in Texas. This is a durable very large shade tree if you have room.

Live oaks are Texas’ longest-living shade trees.

And finally the oaks. These are the super-stars of survival. Bur oaks, chinquapin oaks and Shumard red oaks can live for 100 to 150 years, and live oaks are still punching their clocks 500 years later. The Goose Island live oak is estimated to be 1,000 years old, and it survived a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey.

Each of the trees that I mentioned will bring beauty to its surroundings and pride to its planter. These are the types of shade trees you want to be planting!

Posted by Neil Sperry
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