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The Best Shade Trees for Central Florida

Florida is the Sunshine State, but there are times that shade from the heat is welcomed. In Central Florida, the general area from Daytona Beach southward to Sarasota, many evergreen and deciduous trees prove themselves as valuable and ornamental shade trees. In Orlando and Tampa, for example, architecturally beautiful oaks grow alongside flowering trees. A shade tree grows to a mature height of between 20 and 50 feet, with similar canopy spread.


Lovely when draped in Spanish moss, the live oak (Quercus virginiana) is the quintessential Southern shade tree. It does get large, often inappropriate in a home landscape unless you have a lot of property. Try myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia) that is smaller but has the same qualities as the live oak. Or, swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxi), since it also is native and can tolerate compacted soils, drought. It is deciduous in winter, unlike live and myrtle oak.

Other Evergreen Trees

If you do not mind shade in the sunny winter months, consider broadleaf or conifer evergreen trees. The Nagi Podocarpus (Nageia nagi, formerly Podocarpus nagi) has dense foliage and according to Eric Schmidt of Leu Gardens in Orlando, was amazingly wind resilient during the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) has amazingly large, glossy leaves with immense white flowers in spring and summer. Choose varieties D.D. Blanchard and Little Gem, as they do not grow as large as the species.

Winter-Deciduous Trees

Shade is welcome in summer's heat, but a deciduous tree allows that sweet Florida sunshine to reach the ground in winter when you most love to bask. Trees to consider for your landscape include the Allee Chinese elm (Ulmus parviflora 'Allee') and the Chinese pistachio (Pistachia chinense), which has red fall foliage. Winged elm (Ulmus alata) is a Florida native.

Some shade trees also have wonderful flowers in spring or summer, increasing their value beyond just providing summer shade. Ipe or purple trumpet tree (Tabebuia impetiginosa) has purplish pink flowers in March, yellow poinciana (Peltophorum dubium) flowers yellow in midsummer as does the pride of Bolivia (Tipuana tipu). Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) is stunning in spring with lavender-blue flowers. A winter-blooming tree of note is the Hong Kong Orchid Tree (Bauhinia x blakeana), with five-petaled pinkish red flowers from December to March.

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