The word ‘tree’ brings to mind a tall, woody, permanent (perennial) plant with a main trunk and heavy branches forming a distinct elevated crown of twigs and leaves. Both gymnosperms (cone-bearing) and angiosperms (flowering plants) can grow in a tree form. Fire Dragon® Shantung Maple is a typical example with a single trunk and a rounded crown.
Teddy Bear® Magnolia is a tree that offers evergreen color and fragrant flowers in spring.
Contrast this with a bush or a shrub. Scratch that; the term
‘bush’ is strictly non-scientific and colloquial, and although in conversation people use the words interchangeably, it is shrubs we wish to discuss. The gestalt or overall concept of a ‘shrub’ is a low, woody, perennial plant with several woody stems, and is very different from a tree.
An extreme example of a small shrub form is Micron® Holly with a characteristic mounding or pillowing habit, making this compact, multi-branching shrub distinctive in the landscape.
Perhaps a more typical example of an upright, multi-branched shrub is Green Borders Boxwood.
But as gardeners know, Nature does not like black and white, but prefers Countless shades of gray. And so there are multi-trunk trees like Birch and Willow, and also low-growing trees that branch near ground level such as dissected-leaf Japanese maples. As well, there are shrubs that tend to have only one trunk like some Crape Myrtles and very tall shrubs like lily-flowered Magnolias (or maybe these are multi-trunk trees?). There’s a mind-blowing discussion at the Native Tree Society.
Trees are permanent fixtures that define the landscape and offer shade, windbreak, ornament and even fruit. Shrubs anchor the landscape with their multitude of sizes, forms, leaf- and twig-colors and flowering habits. Evergreens in either category provide stability and winter color. Both are easy to care for and will increase in beauty over time with minimal effort.
What shrubs and trees are growing in your landscape?
Diagram Credit Susan Grace
Photo Credit, Landscape photo Don Vandervort