Southern Trees With Opposite Leaves

The major Southern trees with opposite leaves are:

Maples, Ashes, Dogwoods, Buckeyes, Catalpa, Paulownia

The following ‘acromonic’ may help you remember this group:

“MAD Dogs and Buckeyed Cats named Paul”


Red Maple: Red maple leaves have teeth.  This is the most common maple in America

Silver Maple: Silver maple leaves have teeth and are whitish below.

Sugar Maple: Leaves are toothless and hairless below, and resemble the Canadian flag.

Chalk Maple: Leaves look like small sugar maple leaves, but they are fuzzy green below.

Florida Maple (Southern Sugar Maple): Leaves look like small sugar maple leaves, but they are whitish below.

Boxelder: The only maple with compound leaves.  Leaves have 3 leafleats, and look like poison ivy leaves.

Striped Maple: An understory maple of the southern Appalachian mountains.  Prefers middle elevations.  Leaves are shaped like goose feet.  Bark has conspicuous stripes.

Mountain Maple: Another understory maple of the southern Appalachians.  This maple prefers the highest mountain elevations.  Its flower and seed stalks always point up (toward the mountains).


Green Ash: The most common Southern ash.  One of the few trees (boxelder also) with leaves that are both opposite and compound.  Twig buds are brown fuzzy, bark is spongy.

White Ash: The most common ash of the Appalachian mountains.  Also has opposite, compound leaves.  Twig buds are not fuzzy, bark is spongy.


Flowering Dogwood: The familiar dogwood of spring with showy white flowers that develop into bright red berries. Mature bark breaks into small square black plates some folks call alligator bark.

Alternate-leaf dogwood: This is the only dogwood with alternate leaves, but since it is a dogwood, we put it here.  More common in the mountains than in the Piedmont, this tree has very green trunks and limbs.


Yellow Buckeye: A large canopy tree of the southern Appalachians.  Has palmately compound leaves with leaflets radiating from a palm-like center.

Painted Buckeye: A small understory tree of rich mature Piedmont forests.  Leaves (like all buckeyes) are palmately compound.

Red Buckeye: Has showy red flowers that humming birds love.  A small tree found mostly in the Southern coastal Plain.


Southern Catalpa: A fairly uncommon native tree.  Has heart-shaped leaves and very long slender bean-like seed pods.  Catalpa worms, a kind of caterpillar, regularly defoliate this tree.  Fishermen use the worms for bait.


Royal Paulownia (Princess Tree): An Asian exotic escaped from cultivation, this tree also has heart-shaped leaves.  Flowers are purple and showy, and fruit is a roundish capsule.  The wood is as excellent for woodworking as that of black walnut.

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About Dan Williams

Forest manager & environmental educator with the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. I have spent 26 years interpreting forest research for non-scientists interested in learning more about the forests of the Southeastern United States.
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