Growing up I always heard people refer to a tree as a canopy tree and never wanted to ask what that meant because I felt dumb to ask. When I finally figured it out, I felt dumb for not asking! Let’s take a field trip for a minute and figure out what a canopy is…
Imagine we have gone to Yellowstone Park and we are being guided by a wildlife instructor. We have past Old Faithful and are headed into the forest to look for birds and interesting little things. As you enter the forest, you notice that the sun went away. All you are getting is filtered light through the leaves of the trees that are a hundred feet above you. At first you are thinking how pretty everything is in the shade. Then you notice some of the smaller trees that have not gotten over ten to fifteen feet high, and are just gorgeous. Some are blooming and the others are full of birds and squirrels. You then realize that you are a little bit cold when the breeze comes through the valley and across your face. You then say a little prayer thanking God for making such a beautiful site and follow the instructor through the rest of the forest.
What was the point of that story? It was to give you a visual of what a canopy tree and an understory tree is. A canopy tree is one that usually gets rather large, at least thirty or more feet. They usually thrive on full sun light and will compete with any other plant for the sun light and heat. Canopy trees make great shade trees around your house or yard.
An understory tree is one that usually grows less than thirty feet. An understory tree thrives on partial sun light, and loves to be nestled on the north side of a canopy tree or building. Dogwood and Redbud trees are great examples of understory trees. They will survive in the full sun, but much prefer having part shade to do what they want to do.
Now that you know the difference between a canopy and understory tree, you can go to your local nursery and sound very educated when you say “I would like to have a large canopy tree, maybe something like a Maple or Oak.”