Pollution-Tolerant Street Trees

Sunburst thornless honeylocust
Sunburst honeylocust is suitable for street plantings, with its mess-free foliage. It is also a pollution-tolerant tree David Beaulieu

Homeowners trying to landscape on a part of their property near the street sometimes question, "What are some pollution-tolerant trees?" Pollution-tolerant trees come in handy when you are landscaping in the city and/or are looking for good candidates for growing alongside a road (so-called "street trees").

Examples of Pollution-Tolerant Trees

  • Ginkgo biloba trees
  • Hedge maples
  • Types of thornless honeylocust such as Shademaster or Sunburst Honey Locusts
  • Bradford pear trees (not recommended; see below)
  • Bur oaks and red oaks

A Note About Messy Trees

Ideally, in addition to being pollution-tolerant trees, a street tree will not be overly messy. Thus, in listing Ginkgo biloba here, reference is made specifically to the male trees (the female trees are far too messy). Also in this connection, it is worth pointing out that some types of honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) are among the least messy trees, because their leaves are so small as to be almost completely unobtrusive when they fall.

The qualification "some types" of honeylocust is used because other types may make a massive mess with their seed pods. Honeylocust names to look for include:

  • Sunburst (picture)
  • Shademaster

With these types of honeylocust trees, you "cover all the bases," as they are relatively podless (they reportedly may produce pods some years when they get older). That way, you won't have to deal with much of a mess either from the leaves or from the seed pods.

A Note About Bradford Pears

Bradford pears are pollution-tolerant trees and well-known (which is why they are listed above), but it is not recommended that you grow them. Their branches are weak, and they frequently break during storms. Alternative street trees with similar traits are 'Chanticleer' pears and 'Aristocrat' pears.

What Are the Best Street Trees?

Do you have trouble getting trees established along your street? It is no wonder: A spot near the street is a tough place for a tree to put roots down and thrive.

And even if you do get a tree established, sometimes it is too messy to grow as a street tree. For instance, eastern white pine trees drop large cones and, worse yet, can lose numerous branches in ice storms. Another specimen too messy to be an effective street tree is American sweetgum; opt for a non-fruiting cultivar so as to avoid having to clean up gumballs.

In addition to finding clean specimens, you face the following challenges (among others) in growing street trees:

  • Pollution
  • Compacted soil
  • Infertile soil

You can easily see why pollution-tolerant trees would have a good chance of making a list of specimens valued for plantings along a road. Hedge maple (Acer campestre) and Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata) are two of the lesser-known specimens that make good street trees. Sunburst honey locust and the other specimens, like bur oaks and red oaks, are some of the better-known.