By Erin Marissa Russell & Matt Gibson
The fastest growing tree in the world, according to Guinness World Records, is the Moluccan albizia (Falcataria moluccana) which is the most common tinder tree species in southeast Asia. Moluccan albizia have been known to grow as much as 35 feet in 13 months. That’s a massive tree that just soars into the air like a skyscraper and was only a seedling just over a year ago. No wonder the people in southeastern Asia use this fast growing behemoth for timber, imagine the amount of wood you get from just one 35 foot tree, let alone a row or two of them.
Plus, if you wait a good while before you harvest them, they can grow up to 118 feet over the course of 12 years. Whenever they get around to harvesting the timber, all they have to do is simply toss a few seeds into the ground and they will have a renewable harvest that they can depend on every year, or every twelve years, depending on their cycle.
The other trees in the running for world’s fastest growing tree species are primarily made up of the tropical trees which are commonly cultivated on short rotation plantations specifically because of their speedy growing habits. These include Eucalyptus, Leucaena, Paulownia and Populus.
American Linden/American Basswood (Tilia americana)
The American linden or American Basswood tree grows one to two feet per year and can grow as large as 60 to 80 feet tall with a 30 to 60 foot wingspan. Native to Illinois, the American Linden is a shade tree with heart-shaped leaves. In June, it produces sweet-smelling flowers. Birds are attracted to Basswoods because of they like to forage its seeds and enjoy building shelters in lindens because of their massive size, and convenient food source. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile.
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Bald Cypress trees grow naturally in the southeastern United States, especially in swampy areas, but they will adapt to the conditions where they are planted across USDA hardiness zones five through ten. Bald cypress trees grow two to three feet per year until they reach heights of 60 to 80 feet. For optimal growth, plant in acidic soil with lots of compost mixed in just prior to planting. Avoid using fertilizer for the first two years, but between the ages of 2 and 10, feed bald cypress a high-nitrogen, slow-release tree fertilizer every year in the spring. For more information, you can read Clemson Cooperative Extension Home Garden & Information Center’s profile on bald cypress.
Chinese Tallow Tree (Sapium sebiferum)
Native to eastern China and Taiwan, Chinese Tallow Tree is a deciduous tree that is cultivated for its seeds, which are used to make stillingia oil, which is a drying agent used in paints and varnishes. Chinese Tallow Tree grows two to three feet every year and each tree produces about 100,000 seed bearing fruits that are distributed by birds. The seeds can survive in the soil in dormancy for four or five years before sprouting.
Because of its aggressive growing habit, self-seeding craziness, and hard to remove taproot, Chinese Tallow Trees are considered invasive in many parts of the southern United States, and they have naturalized all the way from Florida to California. Even though you’ll see it recommended on lists of fast growing trees, do not plant Chinese Tallow Tree. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Chinese tallow trees.
Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
Cottonwoods, which are from the poplar family of trees, are massive, fast-growing shade trees that grow naturally all over the United States. Easy to spot due to their wide white trunks, cottonwood trees may not be the fastest growing trees in the world, but they do the get the crown for fastest growing trees in the North American continent, which is impressive in its own right. Young cottonwood trees can grow as much as six feet in a single year. They grow so fast, their wood often becomes weak and easy to break. Cottonwoods can grow quite a bit larger than 100 feet tall at maturity, some species can even reach 190 feet. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on cottonwood trees.
Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia)
There’s a reason that crepe myrtle trees are so common in the world of landscaping. Gardeners have a diverse array of more than 50 varieties to choose from, each with their own height and blossom color. Gardeners in six through 10 can grow crepe myrtle with success year-round in sunny spots with well-draining soil. For more information you can read our article Guide to Crepe Myrtle Tree Care.
Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Dawn redwood trees are real titans, sometimes growing to reach up to 100 feet tall. Grow dawn redwood in acidic soil that is deep and moist while providing plenty of drainage. Make sure to find a spot for your dawn redwood that has plenty of empty space so the tree can spread out—some dawn redwoods can spread 25 feet. While dawn redwoods will tolerate wet feet, air pollution, and transplanting well, they will not tolerate a freeze. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Dawn redwood.
Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Although the name of the Eastern white pine tree would suggest silvery white foliage, in fact the needles of this quickly growing tree are blue-green. Some varieties lose their blue tinge during winter, while others retain it. The initial burst of growth is the quickest for Eastern white pines, as they begin to slow a bit after their first several years of growth. For more information, you can read The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services Extension’s profile on eastern white pine.
Green Giant Arborvitae (Thuja ‘Green Giant’)
A mature Green Giant arborvitae resembles the stereotypical Christmas tree, due to its compact cone-shaped silhouette and low-slung profile that allows the tree’s boughs of evergreen needles to brush the ground. When cared for well, Green Giant arborvitae trees can add three or four feet to their height annually.
Find a place for your Green Giant arborvitae that is sunny but provides some shade in the afternoon. This tree is not particular about soil type, as long as the ground is moist You do not need to trim or prune the tree unless it must be pruned to maintain its pyramid shape, it is unaffected by most diseases and insects, and just about the only thing it will not tolerate is salinity in the soil or sprays of salt water in the air. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Thuja Green Giant.
Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
Part of the appeal of a Japanese cedar tree is the bark, which is a shaggy red-brown that begins to peel off of established trees. When winter winds blow in, the needled foliage turns a rusty bronze, and in spring it changes back to green. It is winter hardy in zones 6A to 8B. For more information, you can read The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services Extension’s profile on Japanese cedar.
Japanese Pagoda Tree/Scholar Tree (Sophora japonica)
Not only does the Japanese pagoda tree form quickly—it develops a well established canopy long before the tree is mature. Gardeners in zones 5A through 8A can grow Japanese pagoda trees in open spots that get plenty of sun and have light soil. In the middle of summer, the tree bursts into bloom with an airy display of pale green and yellow flowers. For more information, you can read The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services Extension’s profile on Japanese pagoda trees .
Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)
Japanese zelkovas are known for being unfussy, low maintenance trees that tolerate wind, drought, heat, and urban settings and resisting Dutch elm disease. It’s easy to clean up after them in the fall, after their display of fiery foliage has finished. It also produces small green fruits in the fall. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Japanese zelkova.
Korean Mountain Ash (Sorbus arnifolia)
Korean ash trees do not tolerate heat or humidity well, and they are not recommended for gardeners south of USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7. It is also sensitive to air pollution, making it a poor choice for street planting. However, gardeners who can provide a sunny spot with moist, acidic soil that drains well will be rewarded with white flowers in summer and orange or red fruit in the fall. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Korean mountain ash.
Larch trees have almost a patchwork of the best traits from other commonly grown trees. The silhouette of a larch tree, with its tall trunk, needled branches, and pinecones here and there, resembles the familiar and popular pine tree throughout the spring and summer months. But in fall and winter, the foliage is transfigured to yellow, eventually falling off to bare the angular beauty of the branches alone. When you plant a larch tree, you get For more information, you can read The Better Homes & Gardens profile on larch trees.
Lemon Bottlebrush/Crimson Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus/Melaleuca citrina)
Although they grow quickly, lemon bottlebrush trees don’t get too large—between eight and 15 feet tall, with the same spread. The foliage erupts into yellow or red flowers both in spring and in fall. Though drought tolerant, it will need protection from the cold in Zone 8 and colder regions, as it is hardy down to 20-25 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.67 to -3.89 degrees Celsius).For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on lemon bottlebrush.
Leyland Cypress (Cupressus x leylandii)
To help your Leyland cypress tree grow quickly and grow strong, provide it with plenty of sunshine and moderately rich soil that is moist but offers plenty of drainage. Periods of drought or early spring freezes can make Leyland cypress trees vulnerable to fungal disease. To help avoid these diseases, make sure to space trees at least 12 to 15 feet apart so they get plenty of air circulation, keep trees well hydrated by watering from the base or using drip irrigation systems, and avoid overfertilizing .For more information, you can read Clemson Cooperative Extension Home Garden & Information Center’s profile on Leyland cypress.
Liberty Holly (Ilex ‘Liberty’)
Liberty holly trees are valued for their robust early growth and traditional holly tree look, with glossy, saw-toothed green leaves and bright orange-red berries, which are on display from fall to winter. The berries will attract birds, for whom they serve as an important source of food in the sparse winter season. They work especially well in privacy screens because they take well to trimming. For more information, you can read The Tree Center’s profile on Liberty holly.
Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
Loblolly pine goes by many other names as well, including bull pine, North Carolina pine, oldfield pine, and rosemary pine. It’s an evergreen that can stretch up to 90 feet tall. The bark of mature trees consists of irregularly shaped plates that flake off to reveal the chocolate-brown wood inside. Clusters of blossoms appear in spring: red to yellow on male plants and yellow to purple on females. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Loblolly pine.
Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
Norway spruce trees are evergreens that can reach up to 75 feet tall and are often used for a windbreak, accent plant, or Christmas tree. They have the classic Christmas tree appearance, with boughs of needles that form a pyramid shape and cones that can be either pink or brown. The bark also adds textural interest to the garden due to its red-brown scales that gradually turn gray and flake off the tree.For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Norway spruce.
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)
Other names for the paper birch tree include canoe birch, kenai birch, mountain paper birch, and white birch. The low-slung trees can be trained to have multiple trunks, at the expense of a bit of the mature tree’s height. The papery white bark for which the paper birch got its name peels from the tree in sheets to reveal the orange-tinged bark inside. Paper birch trees are easy to transplant, but they do not handle polluted environments well, and growing them in zones warmer than the ideal area, from USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 2A to 7, can result in a shortened lifespan. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on paper birch.
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
Pin oaks are red oak trees with a thinner, more delicate silhouette than many oak varieties. They stand strong against many of the diseases that tend to victimize other oak trees and hold on to their foliage through the winter months. They will tolerate dry spots, wet feet, and acidic soil, and due to the shallow root system, this unfussy tree is a breeze to transplant if needed. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on pin oak.
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Gardeners in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 1A through 6A can grow quaking aspen with success, even in rocky areas as well as clay or sandy loam soil. The white bark makes a striking contrast against the pale chartreuse leaves. Because of the flat stems on the quaking aspen’s leaves, the foliage begins to tremble and quiver at the touch of the lightest breeze. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on quaking aspen.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Gardeners in regions north of USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9 can raise the fast-growing red maple tree—and those in other regions can have success with red maples if they plant in a wet site or provide irrigation. The trees tend to be shorter in the south part of their growing zones, unless they are placed in a particularly moist pot, such as next to a river. When you’re choosing a red maple tree, look for seeds sourced from your own area to get varieties that have evolved to suit your climate and stand up against your region’s individual disease and pest threats. For more information, you can read the U.S. Forest Service profile on red maple.
River Birch (Betula nigra)
River birch trees have been known to grow up to 90 feet tall, though 40 to 70 feet is more common. In 20 years, most river birch trees will have reached 30 to 40 feet. They liver longer when they grow in moist spots, like riverbanks or areas prone to flooding. The trees are known for their pink and rusty brown paperlike bark, which peels off in sheets.For more information, you can read Clemson Cooperative Extension Home Garden & Information Center’s profile on river birch.
Sargent Cherry (Prunus sargentii)
In their native habitats, Sargent cherry trees can stretch up to 60 feet tall. It likes lots of sunshine and acidic soil that drains well. Although gardeners will need to be vigilant against aphids, borers, tent caterpillars, and scale, Sargent cherry is a relatively healthy and fuss-free cherry tree variety.For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Cherry Trees from Pits.
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
In addition to being called silver maple, this tree also goes by the names of river maple, silverleaf maple, swamp maple, water maple, and white maple. In its native territory of North America, silver maples can be found growing near streams or rivers, in flood plains, and in low-lying wooded areas. That means the silver maple will grow in wet spots and poor soils where tees with harder wood struggle to survive. The silver maple has green leaves with dusty silvered undersides, which stand in contrast to the shaggy chocolate-brown bark, which forms scales that shed from the tree. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on Silver maple.
Southern Catalpa/Cigar Tree (Catalpa bignonioides)
Southern catalpa trees don’t grow very tall at maturity, only reaching an average of 25-40 feet. When they are young, catalpa trees grow very swiftly, adding on one to two feet every year, but their growth rate slows significantly as they mature. The bark, leaves, flowers, and roots of the southern catalpa tree all contain medicinal values. Easily recognized by its crooked branches and heart-shaped leaves. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on southern catalpa.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Sweetgum is a deciduous tree that grows to heights of 80 to 120 feet tall, adding one to two feet of growth each year. Various parts of sweetgum trees have many medicinal qualities. The fruit is used to treat rheumatic pain, while the bark has astringent properties and is used to treat dysentery and diarrhea. The gum from sweetgum trees is used to treat bedsores, herpes sores, and angina and has anti-inflammatory expectorant properties.
For more information, you can read the U.S. Forest Service profile on sweetgum trees.
Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
Sweet bay magnolia trees grow anywhere between one to two feet per year, making it an easy choice for this list. The foliage of sweetbay magnolias seems to glisten in the sun. The leaves have a dark green topside and a frosted silver underside. Though Sweetbays grow pretty fast, they don’t have a long climb to reaching full maturity, as full grown trees only reach about ten to 20 feet tall with a similar spread. For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Magnolia Trees.
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
The sycamore is the largest tree in the eastern United States. Unlike most fast-growing trees, Sycamore’s impressive growth rate does not affect the lifespan of the tree. Sycamores have incredible longevity, averaging about a 250 year lifespan. Sycamore trees extend around two feet each year. The wood from sycamore trees is commonly made into furniture and flooring. For more information, you can read our article Sycamore Tree Identification and Care.
Tulip Poplar/Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Tulip poplars are among the most commonly recommended trees for gardeners who need their trees to spring up fast, whether they’re building a privacy screen or kicking off a property’s landscaping. These giants can grow to heights between 90 and 120 feet. The tree blossoms in late spring, and its flowers really do resemble yellow tulips. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on tulip poplar.
Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
Everyone loves the distinctive and somewhat melancholy or magical look of a weeping willow tree. You must have the right conditions to successfully grow a thriving weeping willow tree, however. Gardeners in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 2 through 9 who have a wide open area (at least 50 feet) where the tree can stretch out, ideally near a water feature like a small pool, can grow them in well draining spots that get at least four hours of sun each day. For more information, you can read our article How to Grow Weeping Willow Trees.
Fast growing trees aren’t all that they are cracked up to be, unless you are growing them for timber, in which case, you should definitely be reproducing them quickly. If you are looking for a tree to adorn your property for longevity, however, fast growing trees are not the best choice. The faster the growth cycle of the tree, the shorter lifespan it will have. Cottonwoods grow very quickly, and can reach enormous sizes, but live less than 100 years, most cultivars living only 20 to 30 years. Slow growing trees may take a long time to reach maturity, but they tend to live for well over 100 years, as their growth rate isn’t racing to the finish line.