While all flowering trees add seasonal color to a home garden, a yard with flowering fruit trees can be a source of home-grown food. Ohio gardeners can choose from an extensive list of native trees that produce edible fruit. Many of them also provide sustenance for birds and wildlife. Ohio's fruit trees vary in form and height from delicate ornamentals to 100-foot giants.
Seldom exceeding 50 feet, eastern persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is common in the forests of southern Ohio. Mature trees have distinctive bark patterned with dark gray squares separated by reddish-brown furrows. Persimmon's glossy leaves have dark green tops and lighter undersides. Highly disease and pest-resistant, persimmon handles almost any soil type but performs best in rich moist acidic conditions and part shade.
Trees produce creamy white or yellow flowers in May and June, followed by yellow to red berries up to 1 1/2 inches across--the largest berries of any wild American tree. Extremely bitter when unripe, they become very sweet as autumn progresses. By the time frost arrives, they are ready for inclusion in pudding, bread, preserves, cake and pie. Birds and wildlife love them.
Pawpaw (simina triloba), also known as Indian banana, grows wild in the Ohio forest understory. Seldom exceeding 40 feet in height, pawpaw has heavy deep green leaves that become yellow in autumn, at the same time it fruit ripens. The cylinder-shaped fruit follows April and May blossoms. Wooly brown buds open into flowers that change from green to purple. The edible fruit is fully ripe when it turns brown following a frost.
Pawpaw likes rich moist soil on the acidic side. It does well in sandy soil, loam, and clay. Pawpaw is highly disease and pest-resistant, and handles urban growing conditions well. The only drawback is that its uncollected fruit can be very messy. Avoid that problem by planting a single tree. To fruit, says the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, pawpaw needs male and female flowers
Downy serviceberry (amelanchier arborea), a member of the rose family, is a small tree seldom reaching 30 feet. In April or May it produces showy clusters of apple-blossom like white blooms. Its new leaves have a soft downy covering that lends the tree its name. Pale green, they often become burgundy in autumn.
Flowers give way to edible purple berries in June. These berries are excellent substitutions for blueberries in almost any recipe, says the Ohio State University Extension. Birds, however, often strip the trees of the fruit before it is ripe enough to suit humans.
Wild downy serviceberry is most common in Ohio's eastern hills. In garden landscapes it likes moist, acidic well-drained soil and sun to part shade. While serviceberry is susceptible to several pests and diseases, they seldom do significant damage.