Fast growing trees are often planted for their quick shade. Unfortunately, fast growing trees tend to be weak and are easily damaged by both wind and rain. In the temperate climate of North Carolina, fast growing trees are found in the wild, on city streets, in parks and as shade trees in landscaping projects.
The eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) is one of the fastest growing trees in North America, growing 5 feet in height annually up to 10 to 15 years of age and at a slightly slower rate up to 30 to 35 years of age, according to the USDA Forest Service. A poplar, the tree grows to be broad in shape and heavily branched. The tree reaches an average height of 100 feet. In the wild, the tree is found growing in wetlands and on floodplains. The bark is gray and deeply cracked. The shiny green leaves are roughly triangle shaped and are up to 5 inches long. The leaves turn yellow in the fall. The flowers are catkins that appear in the spring.
The red maple (Acer rubrum), also called the scarlet maple or the soft maple, has a medium to fast growth rate, growing from 1 to 2 feet or more per year, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. The seeds of the red maple germinate and begin to grow as soon as they reach the soil. In the wild, the red maple favors moist soil in low-lying areas. The tree has a straight trunk with an elliptical-shaped crown. The red maple grows to an average height range of 40 to 60 feet. The leaves are matte green with three to five lobes. In the fall, the leaves turn red, yellow and orange-red. The red maple's red to yellow flowers appear before the leaves in the spring. The fruit appears in the late spring.
The scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) is a fast growing tree, growing from 1 to 2 feet per year. The tree reaches a height of 60 to 80 feet, with a spread of 40 to 50 feet, according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. The tree grows in the wild in dry, sandy soil on slopes and ridges to 4,000 feet. As the tree ages, the dark gray bark becomes coarse with deep fissures and cracks. The leaves are 3 to 7 inches long with seven to nine lobes per leaf. The leaves are red when they sprout. During the growing season, the top of the leaves turn shiny green with a yellow-green underside. The leaves turn back to red in the fall. The light brown acorns ripen in two years.