What is your tree’s life expectancy? Long- vs. short-lived trees.
July 1, 2015
Right tree, right place. That is the thought that should cross everyone’s minds when choosing a tree for their home landscape. Choosing a tree that won’t outgrow its space, shed leaves into your pool or grow invasive roots are some important elements when selecting a tree.
You might also consider how long you want your tree to live. If you want a smaller ornamental tree, a long-lived specimen may not be important to you. But if you’re looking for long-term shade, or a tree to pass down to future generations, then a long-lived specimen is a better fit. It all depends on the purpose of the tree and your available space.
The category of “long-lived” landscape trees include those that live upwards of 100+ years. Some of the oldest trees in the world include the redwoods and sequoias in California; in fact it’s these conifers that out-live all other tree species with life spans in the 1000’s of years. Here in Texas, it’s our live oaks and pecans that reach a ripe old age of a few hundred years.
Long-lived hardwood trees are good choices for creating substantial urban shade for homes, buildings and parks. They’re also excellent at improving air quality and reducing runoff.
Long-lived trees tend to grow slow. So don’t expect them fill out quickly. You should also know that long-lived trees tend to grow big; so be sure you allow plenty room for large-growing long-lived specimens to mature. Large, long-lived trees put down a sturdy and impressive root system; so take care to provide plenty of clearance from nearby structures, driveways, and sidewalks when placing large long-lived hardwoods. Long-lived hardwoods are often not good choices for tight urban lots.
Examples of long-lived tree varieties include:
Mexican White Oak (Monterrey Oak) Quercus polymorpha lives an average of 100+ years
Live Oak Quercus virginiana, lives an average of up to 300 years.
White Oak Quercus alba, lives an average of up to 600 years.
Pecan Carya illinoensis, lives an average of up to 300 years.
Cedar Elm Ulmus crassifolia lives an average of 100+ years
American Elm Ulmus americana, lives an average of up to 300 years.
Short-lived trees are those that generally have a life-span of less than 100 years - many fall into the 25-50 year range. Short-lived trees include most varieties of palm, small ornamental trees and fruit trees. Short-lived trees tend to be fast growing, smaller in stature and have weaker wood.
Many short-lived trees top-out at 25 to 40 feet tall. If you are looking to grow some quick shade for a small structure, then a smaller, short-lived variety might be your best choice. Short-lived trees are also a good option if you’re looking for a fast growing ornamental or blooming specimen as an accent for your landscape. If you think you’ll have to move the tree for future construction, it’s also best to choose a smaller, short-lived specimen.
Short-lived tree varieties include:
Fruit Trees: Persimmons are some of the longer lived fruit trees, reaching up to 75 years. Figs and apples average out at 30-40 years; while Asian pears and peach trees may only last 15 years. Ornamental peaches and cherries are in the 20-30 year range.
Eve’s Necklace Sophora affinis lives to an average of 50 years.
Mexican Plum Prunus mexicana lives to an average of 40 years.
Crapemyrtle Lagerstroemia indica lives to an average of 60 years.
Bradford Pear lives to only about 20 to 30 years in prime conditions. The weak wood doesn’t hold up well in our North Texas weather.
Redbud trees grows to 20-feet and lives an average of 20 years.
Aside from the variety you choose, environmental factors also come into play when assessing the life expectancy of a tree. Add in the potential damage from storms and other uncontrollable conditions and there’s no guarantee your tree will last a life time. Well-maintained trees that are watered properly, pruned by a professional and grown in the best soil conditions, will obviously have the best chance for a long and happy life.