27 Common Native Trees in Nova Scotia

Maritime provinces are home to a mix of conifers and deciduous trees known as the Acadian forest. Trees in Nova Scotia are abundant, including 43 native species. 

The provincial tree of Nova Scotia is the Red spruce. Other common native trees in Nova Scotia are Balsam Fir, Red Maple and more.

Forests play a vital role in our ecosystem. They provide oxygen, food, and shelter for wildlife.

Each tree has unique features and values. 

For example, the tree needles of white pine can be boiled into a medicinal tea, containing 3-5 times more vitamin C than orange juice!

As arborists, we work with trees daily. In this guide, we share the list of the most common trees in Nova Scotia and tree identification tips to make it easier for you to recognize them.

1.Eastern White Cedar

mature eastern white cedar tree identification
Eastern white cedar (Thuja Occidentalis)

Eastern white cedar, also known as Arborvitae (“tree of life”), is a small to moderate size conifer tree with a cone-shaped crown. It’s the only native tree species of the Cypress family in Nova Scotia.

It’s best identified by scale-like needles and its stringy light brown bark. When crushed, needles smell like green apples.

Also Called: Arborvitae, White cedar, Swamp cedar

Mature Height: 12-15m

Life Expectancy: 150-350years

Prefers: cool, moist areas on rocky banks along swamps, rivers and lakes

Identification Tips: 

  • Crushed needles smell like green apple
  • Stringy light brown bark

Benefits:

  • Its dense fibrous root system helps to stabilize river banks
  • White cedar timber is great for shingles and canoes
  • Oil distilled from cedar needles is used in fragrances

2.Balsam Fir

one of the most common trees in nova scotia, balsam fir tree identification
Balsam Fir (Abies Balsamea)

Balsam fir is a pyramidal-shaped evergreen tree with flat soft, fragrant needles. It’s fairly easy to recognize because it’s typically used as a Christmas tree. Its unique features are its upright cones and smooth grey bark covered with sap blisters. There are multiple Christmas tree growers across the province. Nova Scotia is one of the world’s largest producers of Balsam fir Christmas trees.

Also Called: Eastern fir, Canada balsam

Mature Height: 12-21m

Life Expectancy: 70-150years

Prefers: grows in a variety of planting conditions and locations across Nova Scotia but prefers moist lowlands

Identification Tips: 

  • Upright cones
  • Smooth gray bark covered with blisters
  • White lines underside needles

Benefits:

  • Medicinal properties – infused oils can be used as remedies for sore throats and coughs
  • Used as Christmas trees
  • Pulpwood, lumber, boxes, crates

3.Eastern Hemlock

native tree in nova scotia, hemlock tree identification
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis)

Another conifer tree that thrives in Nova Scotia’s climate is hemlock. Hemlock has a dense crown with skinny irregular branches and drooping branch tips. The needles are short, deep green, lay flat and have two white lines on the underside.

Also Called: Canada hemlock, tree juniper, white hemlock

Mature Height: 18-21 m

Life Expectancy: 300-600 years

Prefers: cool, moist valleys, ravines, can tolerate a variety of soils

Identification Tips: 

  • Dropping branch tips
  • Crushed needles have a distinct lemon-zest scent
  • Needles grow along the edge of twigs and are short at the end
  • Two white lines on the underside of the needles

Benefits:

  • Needles can be soaked in water to prepare medicinal tea high in vitamin C
  • Bridges, planks, general construction

4.Tamarack / Eastern Larch

tamarack tree identification
Tamarack (Larix Laricina)

Tamarack is the only softwood tree in Nova Scotia that sheds its needles every Fall. The needles turn to a pleasant golden color before they drop. Another distinctive feature is needles that grow in clusters of 10 to 30.

Also Called: Eastern larch, Hackmatack, North American black larch

Mature Height: 12-23 m

Life Expectancy: 100-180 years

Prefers: cool, moist areas such as bogs, and swamps, can also be found in well-drained areas

Identification Tips: 

  • Needles that grow in clusters of 10 to 30
  • In the Fall turns yellow
  • The only native softwood in Nova Scotia to lose needles in winter

Benefits:

  • Tamarack wood is very durable
  • Boatbuilding
  • Fence posts, poles

5.Eastern White Pine

eastern white pine tree identification
Eastern white pine (Pinus Strobus)

White pine is the tallest tree in Nova Scotia and can grow up to 40m in height. It’s easily identified by its long soft green needles in bundles of five and large hanging cones often covered with sap. The needles are bluish-green in color and fragrant.

Also Called: Eastern white pine, Weymouth pine

Mature Height: 30-40 m

Life Expectancy: 200-400 years

Prefers: well-drained sandy loams

Identification Tips: 

  • Soft green-bluish needles in bundles of 5 (about 10cm long)
  • Large hanging cones
  • Irregular branches

Benefits:

  • Most valuable wood in Eastern Canada
  • In the past, it was used for shipbuilding

6.Jack Pine

jack pine tree identification
Jack pine (Pinus Banksiana)

Jack pine is a small to medium-sized tree with long, twisted needles growing in bundles of two. The unopened cones are narrow and typically curved. They need a lot of heat to open; therefore, Jack Pine reproduction thrives in areas affected by fire.

Also Called: Scrub pine, Princess pine, Grey pine

Mature Height: 12-19 m

Life Expectancy: 80-150 years

Prefers: well-suited for harsh conditions, grows on areas damaged by fire or logging, thrives in sandy, shallow soils

Identification Tips: 

  • Yellowish green needles growing in bundles of 2
  • The cones are narrow and typically curved, spiraling around a twig

Benefits:

  • Railway ties, poles, fuelwood

7.Red Pine

red pine tree identification
Red pine (Pinus Resinosa)

Red pines are evergreen native trees in Nova Scotia. It’s easy to identify by its reddish flaky bark and long needles growing in bundles of two. It grows fastest when in dry soil with full sunlight.

Also Called: Norway pine, Bull pine

Mature Height: 18-26 m

Life Expectancy: 150-200 years

Prefers: dry areas in full sunlight, sandy, well-drained soils

Identification tips:

  • Reddish flaky bark
  • Long needles in the bundle of 2 that snap easily when bent

Benefits:

  • Attractive cones used for the decoration of Christmas wreaths
  • Sturdy with good rot resistance, which makes it well suitable for log houses
  • Power poles, bridge pilings

8.Black Spruce

black spruce tree identification
Black spruce (Picea Mariana)

Black and red spruce often hybridize, making it more difficult to distinguish between them. The most apparent feature of black spruce is small dark-colored cones. Interestingly, black spruce relies on fire to open its cones so reproduction tends to thrive after wildfires.

Also Called: Bog spruce, Swamp spruce

Mature Height: 20-30 m

Life Expectancy: 150-250 years

Prefers: wet sites, acidic bogs, and swamps but can also be found in other soil types and locations

Identification tips:

  • Black Spruce has sharp pointed needles growing around the entire twig
  • Dark-colored small cones (the smallest of all the spruce trees)
  • Narrow crown and a dense clumped top
  • Compared to Red Spruce, Black Spruce trees are thinner, with shorter branches

Benefits:

  • Pulpwood
  • Construction material
  • You can make Spruce beer using young black spruce shoots, molasses, maple syrup or honey fermented with yeast

9.Red Spruce

red spruce tree identification
Red spruce (Picea Rubens)

Red spruce (Picea rubens) is a coniferous tree native to Nova Scotia. It is recognizable by its cone-shaped crown, thin trunk, and reddish-brown bark. The needles are sharp-pointed, bright green in color, and grow in pairs along the branches.

Also Called: Yellow spruce, Maritime spruce, Eastern spruce, He-balsam

Mature Height: 21-26 m

Life Expectancy: 250-350 years

Prefers: rich, moist sites in mixed conditions

Identification tips:

  • Crushed needles smell like orange peel
  • Needles are shiny, bright, yellow-green in colour and point slightly upwards
  • Orange-brown cones
  • Pyramidal shape

Benefits:

  • Lumber, musical instruments, paper
  • Needles are also edible and can be used for tea, containing vitamin c

10.White Spruce

white spruce tree identification
White spruce (Picea Glauca)

White spruce is recognizable by its pyramidal shape, dark blue-green needles, long trunk, and scaly gray bark. The other nicknames for white spruce are cat spruce or skunk spruce because crashed needles release a skunk-like scent.

Also Called: Canadian spruce, skunk spruce, cat spruce, pasture spruce

Mature Height: 20-30 m

Life Expectancy: 100-200 years

Prefers: can tolerate salt, thrives in moist, well-drained sandy loams

Identification Tips:

  • Blue-green needles with a strong skunk-like smell when crushed
  • Scaly rust brown to silvery bark

Benefits:

  • Pulpwood, lumber, boxes and crates
  • General construction

11.Largetooth Aspen / Poplar

largetooth aspen tree identification, also known as poplar tree
Largetooth aspen | Poplar (Populus Grandidentata)

Largetooth aspen is a fast-growing deciduous tree with a relatively short life span that requires full sun. It develops a tall, straight trunk, gently ascending branches and a short rounded crown. You can identify it by the large curved teeth on the edge of the leaves. In Fall, the leaves turn pale yellow.

Also Called: bigtooth aspen, poplar

Mature Height: 12-22 m

Life Expectancy: 60-100 years

Prefers: moist, fertile soils along riverbanks

Identification Tips:

  • Leaves have round indentations along the edges

Benefits:

  • Pulpwood, pallets, fuel wood (low timber value)
  • Logs can be used to cultivate the mushroom Pleurotus, also known as the oyster mushroom

12.Trembling Aspen

trembling aspen tree identification
Trembling Aspen (Populus Tremuloides)

Trembling aspen is another common tree in Nova Scotia. Compared to largetooth aspen, it has smaller rounded leaves with finely toothed edges. It “trembles” with the slightest breeze, hence its name. Leaves turn bright yellow in Fall.

Also Called: quaking aspen, golden aspen

Mature Height: 18-25 m

Life Expectancy: 60-100 years

Prefers: moist, fertile soils, a wide variety of soils

Identification Tips:

  • Leaves are paler underside and have fine saw-toothed indentations along the edges
  • Leafstalk is long
  • Leaves “tremble” in the slightest wind

Benefits:

  • Fastest-growing native hardwood in Nova Scotia
  • Limited use for pulpwood, matches, fuelwood

13.American Mountain Ash

american mountain ash tree identification
American mountain ash (Sorbus Americana)

American mountain ash is a small deciduous tree with many stems. It has clusters of berries that turn red in Fall that birds love. In spring, its flowers are white and produce a very intense aroma. It’s native to eastern North America.

Also Called: rowan tree

Mature Height: 3-9 m

Life Expectancy: 35-55 years

Prefers: a variety of soils, but ideally cool, moist and well-drained soils

Identification Tips:

  • White spring flowers are followed by large clusters of flame-red, berry-like fruit

Benefits:

  • Boatbuilding, plywood, veneer, general construction wood
  • Berries attract bird life

14.White Ash

white ash tree identification
White ash (Fraxinus Americana)

White ash is best identified by its compound leaves with seven stalked leaflets. Leaves turn bronze-purple in Fall.

Also Called: American ash

Mature Height: 8-23 m

Life Expectancy: 100-200 years

Prefers: moist, well-drained soils on riverbanks and lower slopes

Identification Tips:

  • compound leaves with seven stalked leaflets
  • dark green leaves, paler underside

Benefits:

  • Strong and pliable wood, making it ideal for snowshoes, hockey sticks and other sporting goods
  • High valued wood
  • Juice made from white ash brings relief after mosquito bites

15.Black Ash

black ash tree identification
Black ash (Fraxinus Nigra)

You can recognize Black ash by stout twigs and dark buds. It has flowers in early spring and produces purple clusters. 

Also Called: swamp ash, basket ash, brown ash

Mature Height: 15-18 m

Life Expectancy: 80-130 years

Prefers: sandy soils along banks and streams

Identification tips:

  • Roots are exposed at the base of the trunk, other ash tree roots are not
  • The compound leaves have 7-11 leaflets
  • It has the biggest leaf in the ash family of trees

Benefits:

  • The light brownish wood has unique features that enable it to be peeled into thin sheets or strips, making it ideal for baskets, furniture, etc.

16.Basswood

basswood tree identification, also known as linden
Basswood | Linden (Tilia Americana)

Basswood or American linden has large heart-shaped leaves and very fragrant beautiful blossoms in spring. Its canopy is rounded and symmetrical.

Also Called: linden, whitewood

Mature Height: 20-35 m

Life Expectancy: 100-200 years

Prefers: a variety of soils, moist sand or clay are the most optimal

Identification Tips:

  • Heart-shaped leaves
  • Produces small white-yellowish flowers hanging in clusters

Benefits:

  • Native people used the inner bark of basswood to make rope
  • Tea from basswood flowers is an excellent remedy against flu and colds

17.Beech

beech tree identification
Beech (Fagus Grandifolia)

Most beech trees in Nova Scotia are infected by beech bark disease caused by fungi and insects. It has beautiful bronze coloring in Fall. It’s a slow grower.

Also Called: American beech

Mature Height: 12-24 m

Life Expectancy: 100-200 years

Prefers: a variety of well-drained sites or bottomlands

Identification Tips:

  • Long pointed alternate buds and strongly veined waxy leaves
  • Some leaves remain on the tree in winter

Benefits:

  • Beech’s nuts can be ground into flour and made into coffee-like beverages
  • Fuelwood

18.Grey Birch

grey birch tree identification
Grey birch (Betula Populifolia)

Grey birch trees are easily identified by white-grey bark and triangular leaves. Compared to white birch, the grey birch has a non-peeling bark.

Also Called: wire birch

Mature Height: 6-12 m

Life Expectancy: 20-50 years

Prefers: a wide variety of locations, well-drained, moist, sand or gravel, it can also tolerate areas poor in fertility

Identification Tips:

  • Wiry black colored branches
  • Grey-white non-peeling thin bark
  • Triangular leaves

Benefits: 

  • Barrel hoops, fuelwood

19.White Birch

native trees of nova scotia, white birch tree identification
White birch (Betula Papyrifera)

White or paper birch is best identified by its white papery bark, which peels off in curls.

Also Called: canoe birch, paper birch

Mature Height: 15-25 m

Life Expectancy: 80-130 years

Prefers: a variety of sites

Identification Tips:

  • Bright white trunk with black marks
  • Leaves can be oval or heart-shaped

Benefits: 

  • Veneer, pulpwood, fuelwood
  • One of the best natural timbers

20.Yellow Birch

yellow birch tree identification
Yellow birch (Betula Alleghaniensis)

Yellow birch has a yellowish to grey papery bark and wintergreen scent in the sap of the buds and twigs. Leaves turn bright yellow in Fall.

Also Called: swamp birch, curly birch, black birch, silver birch

Mature Height: 18-25 m

Life Expectancy: 150-200 years

Prefers: rich, moist, well-drained soils

Identification Tips:

  • Crushed twig has a wintergreen smell
  • Yellowish to grey papery bark

Benefits:

  • Aromatic tree with a strong smell and taste of wintergreen tea
  • The sap can be tapped and boiled down to make a wintergreen syrup

21.Ironwood

ironwood tree identification
Ironwood (Ostrya Virginiana)

Ironwood has one of the hardest woods in North America, as its name suggests. It has distinctive flowers that resemble hops.

Also Called: musclewood, levenwood, hardhack, eastern hophornbeam

Mature Height: 10-12 m

Life Expectancy: 50-100 years

Prefers: well-drained sites on slopes and ridges

Identification Tips:

  • Sharply, toothed leaves

Benefits:

  • Sleds, tool handles and fuelwood

22.Black Cherry

black cherry tree identification
Black cherry (Prunus Serotonina)

Black cherry is easily identified by its leaves, deep green and shiny above, with brown hairs along the central vein beneath.

Also Called: wild black cherry

Mature Height: 20-22 m

Life Expectancy: 100-200 years

Prefers: moist, fertile areas in mixed forests

Identification Tips:

  • Purple-black fruit in Fall
  • White petal flowers in spring
  • Smooth-reddish bark on young trees

Benefits:

  • The fruit is sour but edible and can be used to make jelly, wine, and syrup (side note: the bark, leaves and seeds are toxic and should be avoided)
  • Wood of this tree is a premium choice for cabinetry timber

23.White Elm

white elm tree identification
White elm (Ulmus Americana)

White Elm has a characteristic vase shape crown, large main trunk and spreading overhanging branches.

Also Called: elm, American elm

Mature Height: 23-27 m

Life Expectancy: 150-200 years

Prefers: wet sites, well-drained areas

Identification Tips:

  • Vase-shaped crown

Benefits:

  • Boatbuilding, furniture, lumber, pulpwood
  • Good resistance to splitting

24.Red Maple

common trees of nova scotia - red maple tree identification
Red maple (Acer Rubrum)

Nova Scotia is rich in deciduous maple species, but one of the most common is red maple. It’s because it can tolerate various conditions, and it’s very eye-pleasing when the leaves turn yellow or red in Fall. You can identify Red Maple by its saw-toothed leaves.

Also Called: soft maple, swamp maple, white maple

Mature Height: 8-25 m

Life Expectancy: 80-130 years

Prefers: tolerates many situations but thrives in moist, well-drained soils, riverbanks or swamps

Identification Tips:

  • V-shaped leaf margins (sugar maple is U-shaped)
  • Leaves have irregular teeth
  • The tree has bits of red coloring throughout the year

Benefits:

  • Flooring, furniture, veneers, sporting goods, musical instruments

25.Sugar Maple

sugar maple tree identification
Sugar maple (Acer Saccharum)

Sugar maple is best identified by five-lobed leaves with a U-shape between slopes. The leaves turn yellow, orange-red or deep scarlet in Fall. It’s used for the cultivation of maple syrup.

Also Called: hard maple, rock maple

Mature Height: 24-28 m

Life Expectancy: 150-250 years

Prefers: moist, well-drained locations

Identification Tips: 

  • 5 lobbed leaves (U-shaped slopes)

Benefits: 

  • Flooring, furniture, musical instruments, sporting goods
  • It takes 40 liters of sap to make 1 liter of maple syrup

Read more:

Sugar maple vs red maple

26.Striped Maple

striped maple tree identification
Striped maple (Acer Pensylvanicum)

Striped maple is a relatively small tree that prefers moist conditions with shade. Deer love to eat it’s twigs in winter.

Also Called: moose maple, moosewood

Mature Height: 8-10 m

Life Expectancy: 100 years

Prefers: moist, well-drained locations, deep valleys, northern slopes

Identification Tips:

  • Pale green three-lobed leaves

Benefits:

  • Good soil erosion control on steep banks and slopes
  • Pulpwood, veneer

27.Red Oak

red oak tree identification
Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Red oak is best identified by the small capped acorns and lobed leaves with pointed tips. It’s one of the most common oak trees in the Maritime provinces. The leaves turn deep red to rust copper in the Fall.

Also Called: northern red oak

Mature Height: 15-24 m

Life Expectancy: 200-250 years

Prefers: dry, well-drained sites, rocky outcrops

Identification Tips:

  • Small capped acorns
  • Lobbed leaves (7-11 larger lobes) with pointed tips

Benefits:

  • Flooring, furniture
  • Shipbuilding lumber
  • A yellow dye can be made from the bark of red oak

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3 Comments

  1. Bruce Cross says:

    Very informative . Thank you

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