Natural-shaped trees such as multi-stems, bush forms or windswept are becoming increasingly popular and it is easy to understand why. Often, site constraints — for example, within streets and car parks — mean trees are required to have a clear stem of at least 2 metres to maintain an open view. There are many occasions, however, when a multi-stem tree could and really should be used as the best plant for the job.

Instant Structural Impact

Because they have several stems, multi-stems have the advantage of creating interesting structural forms that give much-needed interest at eye level. For those species that have amazing bark, as multi-stems the effect is maximised. The canopies of multi-stemmed trees are also fairly natural, with far more foliage due to the fact there are several stems. They create fabulous instant impact at sizes such as 3 – 3.5 m high, which are also fairly cost-effective.

Acer griseum Paperbark Maple multi-stem tree in garden

An Architectural Showpiece

Multi-stemmed trees are very sought after due to their ornamental features, but they can also become an architectural showpiece. Frequently, multi-stems will have their canopies raised or ‘legged up’ to show off the stems or trunks to their very best. These leggy multi-stems look very elegant and will often be very simply underplanted or positioned in a hardstanding to create a stunning structural statement.

Acer davidii George Forest multi-stem tree in garden

An Urban Glade

A single, well-selected multi-stem can have great presence and create a unique feature in front of a building or in a courtyard. In larger spaces, groups of multi-stems can be used together in a formal way — to define a footpath, for example — or in a more naturalistic way to create a woodland glade. Multi-stems planted with random spacing, combined with simple groundcover plants or just bulbs could suggest a woodland edge and create a wonderful, restful landscape for people to travel through or to stop and enjoy in a busy urban setting. Now even on our streets, some designers are creating larger spaces for trees and trying to create a woodland feel in the heart of our cities using multi-stems.

Best for Bark

Many varieties of tree available as multi-stem offer fantastic interest from their bark. These are three of the best.

Prunus serrula

This has the most beautiful bark of any tree and it performs like a superstar all year round. Even on a damp and dull autumn day, the mahogany peeling bark catches your eye and draws you in. The stems shine and the peeling bark curls and stays on the stems taking on a deeper, richer tone that provides a fabulous contrast. View Prunus serrula

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Betula jacquemontii multi-stems, have an architecturally crisp look with their chalky white bark. This is a strong but elegant tree that will insist on being used on the very best projects where its beauty can be fully appreciated. View Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Betula nigra

The river birch with its fabulous, peeling bark is a real showstopper that will cope well with slightly damper conditions. The colour on the bark is very warm and ranges from pink to brown to orange hues and the attractive peeling bark remains on the trunk to give a unique textural look. View Betula nigra

Betula utilis var Jacquemontii multi-stem trees growing in field

Fantastic Form, Flower and Autumn Colour

Multi-stems can form the most wonderful feature trees and create a memorable setting. The courtyard pictured here (designed by Sarah Price) uses the naturalistic and in this case rather quirky form of Amelanchier to create an interesting space which complements the building and hard landscaping. Highlights are achieved in every season – in early spring, from the stunning white flowers, in summer the emerging bronze foliage and lush green leaves then in autumn one of the most exceptional displays of autumn colour. Amelanchier lamarckii is one of the hardest working, reliable and popular of all multi-stem trees.

Selecting Your Multi-stem

Many of the trees in the A-Z listing are available as a multi-stem. Look out for the multi-stem symbol or use the search filter.


Caroline Swann

Articles by this Author