Understanding Nursery Stock Shapes

Some species can be found naturally in various shapes and forms. And over the past several decades, consumer demand has affected nursery stock shapes creating additional shapes. Customers want the perfect plant, in the right size, color, shape, and a host of other characteristics like deer and pest resistance, fall color, and spring blooms. Not all shapes are available at any given time, but we do our best to continually stock a range of shapes. So, how do you make sense of all the different options? Let’s start simple and work our way to unique.

Nursery Stock: Trees

Trees are most commonly found in single stem form. Whether you’re looking at a 2.5” caliper or a #10 Container Tree it will be single stem, unless otherwise indicated. Single stem means that from the ground up there is one trunk leading to a canopy. Not much else to elaborate on there, and what happens to a trunk later above the ground another topic. Single stem trees cover most of our tree stock; they are traditional and what most envision in a domestic yard or park environment.

Single Stem - Left: Hackberry | Middle: Crabapple | Right: Swamp White Oak

Multi-Stem Trees

Multi-stem trees are noted by their character at the ground level. Unlike a single stem tree, multi-stem trees have 2 or more trunks. In our inventories you’ll notice “multi” or “multi-stem” noted within the tree’s size (popular with River Birch). Although the same species can be single or multi-stem, they are a bit different, since each trunk is a separate tree grown from a different seed. Depending on the characteristics of the tree after maturity, sometimes the trunks will remain separate at the ground level and sometimes the trunks will fuse together forming one base.

Multi Stem - Left: Magnolia | Middle: Crabapple | Right: Birch

Shrub Form Trees

Shrub form is a term used to describe a tree that is small and fully branched lower to the ground. Many traditionally-single stem trees can be found in shrub form, like Musclewood, crabapples, Ironwood, and many more. Imagine all the core characteristics of your favorite tree, except the habit is that of a larger shrub. Unlike single stem trees, which are measured in trunk caliper, multi-stem trees are measured in heights.

Multi Stem - Left: Dogwood | Middle: Crabapple | Right: Japanese Tree Lilac

Specimen Trees

In our inventories, Specimen Trees are significantly larger, mature trees that have displayed outstanding characteristics of the species, such as branching, flowering, fall color, foliage color, and/or other characteristics. However, in landscape design, the term specimen is used to indicate a plant as a focal point of a landscape – a stand-alone garden feature. Learn more about Specimen Trees >>


A more unique size found in our inventories are “on standard” or “patio” sizes, which refer to small scale, single stem trees - a plant that may not traditionally be a tree. For example, patio trees most commonly refer to hydrangeas that have been grafted onto a single stem to make it looks like a smaller tree. “On standard” also refers to plants that are grafted or trained to look like small scale trees, sometimes seen with crabapples, filberts, willows, lilacs, and spruce.

Examples of Same Species in Different Forms

As we mentioned before, some species can be found naturally in various shapes and forms. This is common. You may have noticed that crabapples made an appearance in all the examples above. We do our best to continually stock a range of shapes. Here are a few more examples of the same species grown in different forms.

Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) - Left: single stem | Middle: multi-stem | Right: shrub form

Serviceberry (Amelanchier) - Left: single stem | Middle: multi-stem | Right: shrub form

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) - Left: single stem | Middle: multi-stem | Right: shrub form