7 Trees That Grow Near Saltwater And How They Can

A wetland ecosystem typically flooded by water with abundant bird and fish life

There are plenty of trees around the world. You see them literally everywhere there is earth (for the most part, except for the plains). You may have wondered at some point (like right now) , just what trees grow near saltwater?

Some trees have adapted to tolerate salinity but many still prefer freshwater. The most common trees that can grow near saltwater are the pond apple, common horse chestnut, Canadian serviceberry, honey locust, white oak, and Japanese tree lilac. Mangroves grow directly in saltwater.

These trees have adapted to live in salty environments. Salty soil and salty water can be hard for a tree to survive in, but not these guys. Keep reading to learn more about these trees that grow near saltwater!

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How Can Trees Tolerate Saltwater?

Trees that grow in salt water that prefer it

Some trees always thrived in saltwater, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of trees that thrive in salty water now have only adapted to those conditions. A lot of trees have actually adapted to the salty ocean waters because of rising ocean levels and seawater working its way into the soil further into the land.

The trees that have always thrived are trees that are reliant on things like alkalinity and acidity in the soil to survive. With these traits, they are more likely to be saltwater tolerant.

Some trees have always been primarily sustained by saltwater (like those that live butted right up to the water along the coasts) they are genetically made to live there. Just like you and I breathe air, we are genetically meant to. These trees that live on the coast are meant to subsist on saltwater. 

When the water from the ocean starts to work its way into the soil system and into the water reserves that were once freshwater, the vegetation (trees included) has very few options. They can either adapt or they can cease to exist. 

Some trees are hit with a double whammy where they are not only getting saltwater to their roots system, which is essentially their lifeline but they are also getting hit with salt spray from the ocean. 

Salt spray is that moist air that hits you at the beach and leaves you covered in a salty layer. Trees get hit by it and they are unable to rinse off like us, so they absorb the salt through their bark this way, too.

The University of Florida refers to this as salt stress, and some scientists are trying to reduce it. They use a bunch of different chemical processes like fertilizing with oxygen but they are only seen as short-term solutions, that’s why some scientists are working on finding ways for plants to adapt to salty conditions. 

The trees that adapt usually have some sort of gene that helps them to adapt to the salinity of the water. Scientists have actually started trying to convert plants that are likely to be affected by the influx of saltwater. 

Some plants are even hit by this up in the northern states, too. When they use large amounts of salt to get snow and ice up from the roads, they are noticing that vegetation along roadways has actually adapted to handle salty water and salty soil, too.

It’s crazy how trees and vegetation can adapt and how they can learn to survive in something that seems impossible!

Want to learn more about what trees need to survive? Check out our article: What pH Level Do Trees Actually Like For Best Growth?

7 Trees That Live In Saltwater Conditions

Now, onto the good stuff! Here are the most common trees that live in saltwater.

A quick note, many of these trees grow and thrive off of primarily freshwater BUT in certain circumstances, they’ve adapted to saltwater and are tolerable to it. These trees, except for mangroves, will most likely have a better life near a freshwater source.

Pond Apple

Wasserapfel (annona glabra), everglades nationalpark, florida, usa

Pond apple, Annona glabra, is known under many different aliases. It is called the pond apple, bobwood, corkwood, monkey apple, swamp apple, and alligator apple. According to the University of Florida, the name alligator apple is because it’s a common snack for alligators. Who would have thought?

The pond apple tree is semi-deciduous and is classified as woody. They grow to about 10 feet tall but are capable of growing taller than that if given the right conditions and space. They have alternating leaf patterns with leaves that are waxy and green.

While the pond apple does have flowers that are yellow and white with a bright red middle, they also bear a fruit that is edible in as little as two years. They love saltwater and even brackish water, which is a mixture of saltwater and freshwater.

Their fruit looks like a common apple, but it is green and much smaller than what you would buy at the grocery store. They are a bit more oval-shaped, too, but still hold a pretty close resemblance. 

Pond apples are found mostly in Florida, but they are also found in the Bahamas. A pond apple tree is a textbook example of salt stress and adaption in converting to a primarily saltwater tolerant tree.

Horse Chestnut

Horse-chestnuts on conker tree branch - aesculus hippocastanum fruits.

The horse chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum, is fully deciduous. According to the University of North Carolina, it usually gets about 50 feet tall but is known to grow to heights of about 75 feet as well. The horse chestnut has yellow leaves and when it fruits it has yellow and red flowers.

After the flower fruits, it produces a nut that is covered in spiky, green skin that looks sort of like a sea urchin. It’s probably one of the more interesting fruits of the trees listed here! When the skin is peeled back, the fruit is a dark brown nut that looks like an acorn without its lid.

This tree is native to Greece and Albania. It has been moved around quite a bit and is very adaptive.

Canadian Serviceberry

Amelanchier canadensis tree in bloom in the garden. Canadian serviceberry, juneberry

The Canadian serviceberry, otherwise known as Amelanchier canadensis, is another fully deciduous tree according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The Canadian serviceberry tree can also be known as a juneberry, which is what it is commonly known as.

This tree grows to be around 25 feet tall and unlike some of these other trees, it’s actually gray in color and is known for the dark stripes it has when it’s younger that run vertically along the length of the tree. 

The Canadian serviceberry tree can be found in the northern part of the eastern United States and into Canada (hence the name) and they have always grown in marshes, swamps, and bogs for the most part before anyone made them ornamental. Because of this, they prefer saltwater because it is part of their natural habitat. 

The Canadian serviceberry produces a sweet fruit that is actually purple. I think that’s pretty cool, if I’m being honest! But before it fruits, it gets white flowers all over the tree almost making it look like it’s covered in snow when in full bloom.

The berries are small and round, and they give off a rich and beautiful deep purple color. They grow in clusters but they almost resemble a blueberry that is a little bit off in color. 

The Canadian serviceberry is probably one of the more beautiful trees, in my opinion, that grows in saltwater.

Honey Locust

Large branched thorns on the honey locust tree (gleditsia triacanthos) also known as thorny locust.

The honey locust, otherwise known as the Gleditsia triacanthos, is the first tree on this list to have thorns, surprisingly enough. This tree is a tall one, averaging at about 60 feet, but reaching heights of 80 feet as well. 

A honey locust tree is a darker gray (kind of like the Canadian serviceberry, but darker) or brown-colored tree. The thorns stem from the actual trunk of the tree and they are intimidating. They stick straight out and they are long, sharp, and usually, a few thorns are clustered to one spot.

The leaves are alternating but instead of being green, they are yellow and gray, how cool right? A honey locust’s fruit is just seed pods, so it doesn’t produce anything edible to humans. Before it makes fruit, it flowers into green flowers that grow in clusters. Not many people would notice them as flowers if they didn’t know what they were looking at.

Honey locusts can be found in the tropics and now, all over the globe. They love warm, humid weather. They also love acidic and alkaline climates and conditions, so the saltwater is right up their ally when it comes to how they survive. 

Cockspur Hawthorn

Ripe cockspur hawthorn in autumn

According to Franklin and Marshall College, the cockspur hawthorn tree (or the Crataegus crusgalli if you want to be fancy) is an interesting tree because while it is tolerant to wet, salty soil it is also tolerant to dry and hot conditions.

Cockspur hawthorn trees are also interesting because they are considered to be low branching trees, which means that all the branches droop toward the ground and you might even see the bottom branches on, or touching the ground. While the branches on this tree grow towards the sun, the bottoms of the branches sag downward.

The cockspur hawthorn itself isn’t the tallest one we’ve seen, sitting at about 25 feet tall. The leaves are dark green but they turn a purplish-red color in the fall and are oval-shaped. The flowers on this are white and they give off a really bad smell that is not exactly an attractive aspect that it has to offer.

While it is stinky, it is also pretty! It has bright red berries that blossom from the foul-smelling flowers. Where it lacks in smell, it exceeds in beauty! Don’t judge a book by its smelly flowers, am I right?

The cockspur hawthorn can be found along the coast in the eastern United States. It is a tree that has adapted to living in salty conditions due to the rise in sea level. 

White Oak

Closeup of white oak trees leaves turning into autumn yellow shade in coonawarra during fall season in south australia

The white oak tree, Quercus alba, is honestly probably the most well-known tree that we have on this list. It is part of a very well-known family, the oaks, and some sort of variation of the tree is seen almost everywhere in the country.

White oaks live up north, mostly. They are absolutely a tree that adapted to salt life. They can be found mainly in places like the midwest and Canada, although they are found in places on the northern coast like New York, Delaware, Maine, and New Hampshire.

The more hardier species of white oak trees can withstand saltwater, but again they do thrive much better near freshwater.

White oak trees are very tall and fully deciduous. They grows to heights reaching 60 feet and their canopy can be as wide, too. They can be a pretty big tree if they have room to grow.

White oak is one of your more textbook trees. It has green, scalloped-edged leaves with flowers that are not showy. They are so not showy that you probably wouldn’t even notice them if you were walking by. They don’t have a smell either, so there is even less to notice.

The fruit this tree bears is a nut, which is more commonly known as an acorn. A little nut that is green when new, and turns brown and woody when it matures with a cute little hat on top. 

If you want to prune your white oak, the Fiskars 15 Inch Pruning Saw is perfect to maintain any low, dead, and dying branches on your tree!

Learn more about white oaks in our article 32 Incredible Facts About White Oak Trees!

Japanese Tree Lilac

Branch of japanese tree lilac or syringa reticulata with white bloom close up in the springtime

The Japanese tree lilac, Syringa reticulata, if you’re referring to it scientifically. The Japanese tree lilac is on the shorter side as stated by the University of Minnesota, only reaching about 25 feet at its maximum height. 

This tree has reddish-brown bark that peels very easily and changes colors to more of a dull gray when it gets older. A lot of people compare this tree to a cherry bark tree in its appearance because the bark peels the same way.

The leaves are pretty easygoing, they are sort of a teardrop-shaped and green. They grow in opposite pairs off of the branch. The flowers on a Japanese tree lilac smell delightful and they are a pretty white color. They grow in large clusters and throw beautiful splashes of light throughout the tree when it is in full bloom. 

If you know what a lilac looks like, the flower clusters look like that, but instead of the traditional purple lilac, these flowers are white. It is a beautiful tree! The fruit, however, isn’t very exciting compared to the beautiful look and smell of the flowers. It’s a brown dry pod that holds the seeds. 

The Japanese tree lilac is native to Japan, as the name would suggest. They live along coastal areas of Japan, so they are used to salty conditions. The Japanese tree lilac has been transplanted and moved around for ornamental purposes and it can be very adaptive.

That’s All We’ve Got Today!

Trees that have adapted to salty conditions and prefer growing in saltwater

While a lot of trees can grow in these salty conditions, they didn’t always start off like that. A lot of trees on the coast have always had homes in salty conditions but as the sea level continues to rise, more and more trees are beginning to adapt to a new way of life.

All of the trees mentioned are great options if you are living along the coast and want to spruce up your yard with a new tree!

Thanks for sticking around and learning all about trees that grow in saltwater and why they prefer it!

References

Hanes, R. E., L. W. Zelazny, and R. E. Blaser. “Salt tolerance of trees and shrubs to de-icing salts.” Highway Research Record 335 (1970): 16-18.

James A. Allen, Jim L. Chambers, Michael Stine, Prospects for increasing the salt tolerance of forest trees: a review, Tree Physiology, Volume 14, Issue 7-8-9, July 1994, Pages 843–853, https://doi.org/10.1093/treephys/14.7-8-9.843

Singh, K., J. S. P. Yadav, and V. Singh. “Tolerance of trees to soil salinity.” Journal of the Indian Society of Soil Science 39.3 (1991): 549-556.

Zhang, M., Liu, Y., Han, G. et al. Salt tolerance mechanisms in trees: research progress. Trees 35, 717–730 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00468-020-02060-0

Zhu JK. Plant salt tolerance. Trends Plant Sci. 2001 Feb;6(2):66-71. doi: 10.1016/s1360-1385(00)01838-0. PMID: 11173290.

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