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When I think of small ornamental trees,  I think of color. Large shade trees for shade--small ornamental trees for color. With a few possible exceptions,  you do not get spectactuler flowers from large shade trees. Shade trees make up for their lack of flowers by offering  impressive fall foliage and soothing shade.   But you do get awesome flowers from small ornamental trees. To see a Texas Redbud in  early spring is a beautiful sight.  Each of the small ornamental trees listed here has its own special time to impress. First comes the Texas Redbud in late winter, very early spring.  Then the Mountain Laurels are not far behind. A few weeks later  the Anacacho Orchid Tree covers itself in white. By early summer the Crepe Myrtles show off their various colors and the American Smoke Tree looks awesome among its colorful leaves and misty spray. The Vitex and the Pomegranate also bloom during this period. The Mexican Olive and Desert Willow love the summer heat and the Yaupon Holly becomes red with  berries in fall and winter while the Pomegranate shows off its edible fruit.  

There is no tree authority that demands planting these trees only; however, these trees do meet municipal ordinances for acceptable varieties and SAWS rebate programs. As long as a tree grows well in our area,  and is recommended by knowledgeable professionals, then your choice from a list like this depends upon what seems good to you. After you have done your own personal research, then trust your own gut feeling about what looks good to you. Like choosing from several attractive and mechanically sound automobiles, choosing a tree should be a happy time, based upon your own personal taste.  If you choose any of these ten,  they will provide decades of enjoyment. Each tree on this list has its own strengths and weaknesses. See the individual plant information sheets for more detailed information on each individual tree. Other lists may be of interest to you as well, such as, “2017 Top Ten Shade Trees for the San Antonio Area.” 

Keep in mind that this ranking depends upon how well a particular tree blends into your own landscape. For example, many might rank the Crepe Myrtle as their number #1 choice;  however, if you already have Crepe Myrtles in your yard,  and Crepe Myrtles are common in your neighborhood, Crepe Myrtle may be number #10 on your list or may not make your top ten list at all.  

  For the last 30 or so years, the Crepe Myrtle has been the most commonly planted small ornamental tree. The Mountain Laurel and Texas Redbud have also been popular. Other great choices remain underused or unknown, like the Anacacho Orchid, Smoke Tree and Mexican Olive. There is a lot to look forward to if you plant one of these.

All of these trees will flower better in full sun. The Texas Redbud is the most shade tolerant out of the bunch. The Mountain Laurel makes the best evergreen shrub and can grow in sun or part-shade but will bloom better with full sun. 

Drought tolerance is another factor that might change your own personal ranking. Though most all of the trees listed here may be considered “drought tolerant”,  there is certainly a difference in their degree of "drought attractiveness." For example, a Mountain Laurel will certainly look better than a Crepe Myrtle during a  significant drought. Both will survive the drought, but the Mountain Laurel will still look good while the Crepe Myrtles will look wilted and ugly.   See the list on the “2017 Top Ten Ornamental Trees According to Drought Tolerance for the San Antonio Area”. 

If you are looking for large leaves after the flowers fade then a Redbud is a good choice.  Because of its awesome bloom when we long for winter to be over and spring to arrive,  and because of its attractive leaves, toughness and fast growth rate, Texas Redbud tops our list at # 1.  

This list is based upon decades of planting, observing, appreciating, growing, researching, maintaining, selling small ornamental trees. 

currently only the most popular plants have information sheet write-ups. Many more will be coming shortly, thank you.

1.Texas Red Bud   

(Cercis canadensis var. texensis)

2.Mountain Laurel   

(Sophora secundiflora)

3.Anacacho Orchid Tree  

(Bauhinia lunarioides)

4.Mexican Olive  

(Cordia boissieri)

5.American Smoke Tree 

(Cotinus obovatus)

6.Yaupon Holly 

(Ilex vomitoria)

7.Crepe Myrtle 

(Lagerstroemia indica)

8.Desert Willow

(Chilopsis linearis)


(Punica granatum)


(Vitex agnus-castus)

2017 Top Ten Small Ornamental Trees for           San Antonio