Native Trees for Missouri Landscapes

By Charlotte Schneider

Euonymus atropurpureus
eastern wahoo
Deciduous shrub

I always found it exciting to see wahoo fruiting, its scarlet red berries popping out of the capsules. It does need rich, moist soil. I don’t know if this euonymus could adapt as well as other euonymus, but if the plant is available it would be worth trying.
Ilex decidua
Deciduous shrub

A holly that loses its leaves, it gets warty projections on its twigs, bright berries and has a rather interesting branch structure. It is available and adapts well in most soils. I just personally find other small trees more attractive.
Leitneria floridana
Deciduous shrub

I have heard about this native corkwood tree, and it sounds interesting, but we may be too cold in St. Louis. Don’t confuse this with the imported cork tree.
Staphylea trifolia
Deciduous shrub

The native bladdernut is attractive in leaf but rather unassuming in character. I have mostly seen it in moist, woody areas. It is most noticeable when the bladder-like fruit is available. I just don’t know if it can be happy alone on a lawn, on dry, compacted soil. Yet this small tree/shrub is certainly appealing.
Viburnum prunifolium
blackhaw viburnum
Deciduous shrub

Native understory tree able to adapt to dry home sites. It prefers some shade, though its clusters of blooms would show better with sunlight. Branching is somewhat narrow and growth rate slow.
Juniperus virginiana
red cedar
Needled evergreen

Amazingly adaptable, ranchers consider it a nuisance as it takes over old fields, but I always enjoyed this tree. Cultivars of this Missouri native come in all sizes and can dress up any winter landscape. Stressed landscape plants suffer from Phomopsis disease and bagworm insects both of which, if not treated, can seriously disfigure plants.
Pinus echinata
short-leaf pine
Needled evergreen

Shortleaf pines abound south and west of St. Louis in the Ozarks. But coaxing them to survive in the area around St. Louis is challenging. The higher latitude and different soils likely impact them. Of course these pines have the tall tree look to them with sparse, rangy branches, which may not be appropriate on many homesites. Seedlings are available, but survival is questionable.
Acer negundo

I would not plant this tree anywhere near your home. It produces abundant seeds, which attract abundant boxelder bugs, which later will swarm around the windows of your home. This aggressive pioneer species belongs in the wild.
Acer rubrum
red maple

This soft maple’s wood is stronger than the silver maple but not as tough as the hard sugar maple. It grows fast and autumn color is dependable. Good as it is, I still would not want to plant it close to the house. The bark of red maple is thin and very susceptible to sunscald in sunny areas. Mulch properly and if necessary wrap the trunk in winter.
Acer saccharinum
silver maple

Silver maple is magnificent but has weak wood. When topped, it responds like a weed near the cut while its heart decays, providing a home for carpenter ants. It doesn’t color in fall, its seeds spiral around the neighborhood. Seen at a distance with the silver-backed leaves blowing in the wind, it is beautiful.
Acer saccharum
sugar maple

This can be be a wonderful, colorful tree. Treat it right and it will provide well for the home. A slow grower, but worth the wait.
Aesculus glabra
Ohio buckeye

This bellwether of spring grows easily here and produces many notable flowers clusters in spring. However, the large, compound leaves get a blotch disease that makes them ugly in autumn. The large, round fruits yield slick, shiny nuts that are popularly carried (but not eaten!) by adults trying to ward off rheumatism and children. Why not plant one of its relatives--red buckeye, horsechestnuts, shrub bottlebrush buckeye.
Asimina triloba

They are beautiful in the woods. I know they can be planted in the open around a home, but I question their potential vigor…certainly available water would be an issue. Interesting but not showy flowers, delicious but not abundant fruit make it a good selection for a quiet corner, but maybe not the front lawn.
Betula nigra
river birch

This fast-growing, excurrent tree has thin, spreading branches. When allowed to grow naturally and mulching out to the dripline, it is an attractive specimen with few problems. If you must limb it up, do it to expose the beautiful scaly bark. Some nurseries sell them as clumps to show off the bark. Don’t plan on keeping these very long…they can get awful large. It tolerates many soils but will be chlorotic on alkaline soils without the mulch. There are several cultivars including a new weeping river birch.
Carpinus caroliniana
American hornbeam

The smooth, sinuous bark is very distinct. American hornbeam is natural along streams, and has adapted around homes. European hornbeam has found favor even as a street tree and also has attractive sinuous bark. Three-lobed fruiting structures drooping from the tree are also attractive, resembling the fruit of Eastern hophornbeam. Availability may be a problem.
Carya illinoinensis
hardy pecan

I wish I had known more of these large, spreading trees with their wonderful pecan nuts. Though putting up with the messy squirrels in a backyard may make it less desirable, the golden autumn display could make me forget this nuisance.
Carya laciniosa
shellbark hickory

If you are growing hickory for the nuts, I understand the shellbark has the best nuts. Perhaps, but they are still hard to crack. They grow in wet bottomland areas.
Castanea dentata
American chestnut

I get excited seeing a new planting of this nearly relic American species. Experimental plants are becoming available for the adventurous. However, if it survives, the tasty, but spiny nuts are hard on feet. I would love to see these planted…but not in my backyard.
Catalpa speciosa

The native Northern catalpa with its large whorled leaves has found a place around many homes. Seedlings appear in roadsides and openings among buildings. Large flowers are attractive but can become slick on roads. The fruit, long pods, hang from the trees; some think them decorative…some don’t. The similar Southern catalpa, C. bignonioides, also was planted around homes, and there is a dwarf catalpa available.
Celtis laevigata

A close relative of hackberry though less abundant, sugarberry may also be a welcome volunteer in your flowerbed to transplant. The bark may be less warty but otherwise similar to hackberry. However, there is a form of it called Texas sugarberry, which is more shrublike.
Celtis occidentalis

Hackberry is adaptable and easily becomes established in undeveloped areas. It has good natural form and interesting warty bark. The wood is pretty strong and the tree has few serious pests, though leaf galls and “witches brooms” may cause concern. Some autumns favor a brilliant yellow leaf color. Easy to recognize, it’s worth transplanting a volunteer from your flowerbed.
Chionanthus virginicus
fringe tree


So rare in the wild, and so beautiful. The delicate ‘strap-like’ petals of the native fringetree hang from the ends of stout branches. At the peak of its bloom it shows the whitest white petals that cover and hang from the tree rivaling a snowstorm. It has proved its ability to survive an intensely harsh site at Meramec Community College. To see a cluster blooming on mother’s day at the Missouri Botanical Garden is worth an annual pilgrimage.
Cladrastis kentukea

A lovely shade tree, yellowwood can adapt to St Louis, though we may be a bit too far north for it to do really well. The smooth bark, long flower clusters, and large compound leaves are a real benefit. Not a large tree, it can provide shade on small homesites.
Cornus florida
flowering dogwood

Though the Missouri native dogwood grows as an understory tree in shady areas, many cultivars were developed for planting in yards where the numerous flower bracts and berries are unrivaled. The crimson fall leaf color and tight, blocky bark are also unique. Though transplanting a native tree may be tempting, the fine cultivars available are a better choice. In the East, a disease, a type of anthracnose, has killed many dogwoods…but not in Missouri.
Crataegus crus-galli
cockspur thorn

A common native, the flower is pretty, but it gets cedar rust. And it is thorny.
Crataegus phaenopyrum
Washington hawthorn

Washington hawthorn is a Missouri native that has become popular in St. Louis. It does get nice flowers and neat red berries. However I have found pruning them bloody painful, especially when nurseries entwine multiple trunks together. And they commonly get cedar rust on leaves and twigs. Use hawthorns resistant to the rust.
Crataegus viridis
green hawthorn

Green hawthorns are beautiful flowering trees. They do seem to have an aroma sometimes not particularly fragrant. However, on the plus side they don’t suffer from cedar rust! And sometimes they are thornless.
Diospyros virginiana

Female persimmon trees are known for their tasty fruit…when ripe. They are also notable for their straight form and dark, alligator bark when seen in old fields and along railroad tracks. The wood of this ebony relative is hard. As a pioneer it is adaptable to difficult soils.
Gleditsia triacanthos
honey locust

Our native honeylocust thrives on any soil. But beware of the thorny branches. The pinnately and bipinnately compound leaves provide thin shade, allowing grass to grow underneath. The pods are interesting. Not all of them have millions of thorny branches; a thornless honeylocust is available and widely planted. Sucking insects may cause leaves to lose their green color. Fall color may be a good yellow.
Gymnocladus dioica
Kentucky coffee tree

Kentucky coffee tree is capable of interesting growth angles yet still maintaining strength and structure. The bark is dark and deeply ridged. The leaves are large and compound attached to thick branches. I have often recommended this tree for areas needing summer shade yet winter warmth from the sun.
Juglans nigra
black walnut

They leaf out late and lose their leaves early due to anthracnose. Black walnuts have heavy fruits that can stain hands for many days. If I could overlook a fertile, northeast-facing slope I would plant walnut for their wonderful chocolate-brown bark with distinct diamond patterns, and let the nuts roll downhill to my neighbor. I can buy shelled walnuts at a farmers market.
Liquidambar styraciflua
sweet gum


Sweet gums have a terrible reputation. The main health problem is homeowners who top the tree. Topping is a permanent injury, cutting life short. Another problem is planting too deep causing girdling roots. Find a compromise with the tree’s fruit. Mulch to the dripline to contain the balls. A healthy tree produces fewer fruit. Then enjoy the dependable fall color.
Liriodendron tulipifera
tulip tree

This fast-growing, straight-arrow tree has beautiful flowers to decorate the tree and lawn in spring. Tulip-shaped leaves inspire its common name, tulip tree. Though a fast-growing tree, it has few pests impacting the wood, but tulip-tree scale is a pest of the tree AND the home/car owner. Sucking sap from twigs and leaves, they deposit their ample discharge on cars and furniture.
Maclura pomifera
osage orange

Naturalized here for decades, it seems like a native. The large, gaudy fruit is not an asset unless you are an opossum. Yet this tree is very, very durable! Leaf cuticles resist chewing, probing insects. The impenetrable, crooked branches, once used for fenceposts, provided homes for the native bluebirds. I do hope some adventurous homeowners can make space for this slow-growing, thorny but well-formed tree.
Magnolia acuminata
cucumber tree

I have only seen a few cucumber tree magnolias in park-like settings; they are impressive. It apparently enjoyed some past popularity in St. Louis. I understand the green cucumber-like fruits release bright red seeds on long slender threads...sounds interesting.
Morus rubra
red mulberry

Certainly I love mulberry fruit. If I had the space I would plant them far away from the car and fight the birds for the fruit. The zigzag branches with the two-toned buds are interesting. Besides ‘decorating’ cars, the birds are also happy to plant these trees everywhere. I would still plant this native, though neighbors may object.
Nyssa sylvatica
black gum
Black gum turns red! Whether in the forest or on a lawn, in autumn leaves turn brilliant to deep red. I have found it an adaptable Missouri native worthy of the home as it becomes more available. Plant or prune new plants to a single trunk to maximize strength. Mulch properly to avoid lawnmowers, weedeaters. Avoid mulch "volcanos" as they damage the root flare. Trees in the woods damaged by forest fires will become hollow; though still “healthy,” they are not sound.
Ostrya virginiana
eastern hop hornbeam


A small native tree, the Eastern hop hornbeam, also known as ironwood, has adapted to homesites and tolerates dry soil. I find the branching structure, flakey bark, and the fruit, a cluster of nutlets in a bladdery sac, attractive. Availability may be a problem.
Platanus occidentalis
American sycamore

This native has decorated our city streets for decades. However sycamore anthracnose threatens these mighty trees. Across Missouri the fungus forces refoliation multiple times in spring. One year some trees could not keep leaves until August. Yet most survived and maybe even thrived…amazing! Yet they are messy, dropping branches because of it. A look-alike relative, London planetree, is a good substitute.
Populus deltoides
eastern cottonwood

Cottonwood can be recognized in many parks by its very thick, deeply furrowed bark. Its large, shiny buds, triangular leaves and flattened petioles are interesting, but the cottony fluff that lifts the many seeds on the slightest breeze make them unwelcome around any air conditioner. It also gets very tall very fast.
Prunus americana
wild plum

The wild plum has few really attractive assets. But it is tough and able to survive almost any sunny place. Flowers in spring and fruit that make great jelly are its best assets.
Prunus serotina
black cherry


A unique tree, it has fallen out of favor in the city. The fruits are small and tasty though a bit crunchy. It needs intense competition to reach great heights. With age it develops black, scaly bark with horizontal lenticels similar to other Prunus species . Without competition, it will stay small and scruffy and will eventually fall prey to the many, many diseases afflicting Prunus species.
Quercus alba
white oak

White oak, though slower growing than red oak, is an impressive tree. Trees in the white oak group are less likely to die of oak wilt. They can get it, but their defense systems protect them. But, of course, urban stress certainly can be a factor. The white oak group is recognized by its rounded buds and round lobes on the leaves.
Quercus bicolor
swamp white oak

Swamp white oak is becoming popular for planting on compacted urban soils. Being in the white oak group it should be very healthy, long lived, and not suffer from oak wilt. It may even grow faster than white oak. Prune the trunk to a desirable height. Occasionally jumping oak gall populations build up and ruin the leaf color.
Quercus imbricaria
shingle oak


Shingle oak’s banana-shaped leaves are somewhat interesting and they have red fall colors. And it is able to tolerate dry, compacted soils. Though I just can’t recommend planting shingle, red, and pin oaks, knowing they can die of oak wilt spreading from tree to tree. And, of course, acorns abound.
Quercus macrocarpa
bur oak

Bur oak’s large spreading crown provides extensive shade and adapts to a variety of soils making it a favorite for urban areas needing shade. The acorns are particularly large and “hairy”. If you mulch out to the dripline you will not only assure a healthy tree, but also avoid the acorn controversy.
Quercus palustris
pin oak

I don’t understand St. Louis’ love affair with pin oak. So many! I received numerous health concern calls…for good reason. Gouty/horned oak galls, anthracnose, actinopelte leaf spot, oak wilt, and etc. Their excurrent form and slender branches, fast growth rate, are of course advantageous around homes. They often hold dead leaves through winter, providing some windbreak. But with so many planted, oak wilt spreading through roots, it’s an invitation to disaster.
Quercus phellos
willow oak

I find the large, spreading willow oak a welcome choice for urban areas. The small leaves still provide awesome shade, and fast growth for an oak even on compacted soils. It does have acorns. I believe it is less likely to die of oak wilt than pin, red, or shingle oaks, but the jury is still out.
Quercus rubra
red oak

Red oaks have been popularly planted for their speedy growth for oak and vibrant fall color. Because of their susceptibility to oak wilt I suggest not planting where many pin, red, and shingle oaks are planted; monocultures encourage disease spread.
Quercus stellata
post oak

Common on hot dry forest areas, post oak is tenacious, but slow, very slow. Even when hybridized with white oak, it still grows slowly.
Robinia pseudoacacia
black locust

The fragrance of their flower clusters is amazing. Spines forming at the flower bases is my least favorite part. Heart rot disease and borers tend to attack the trunk. Seedlings just show up in roadways, etc. I just can’t see planting this species around a home, and even volunteers may not be welcome.
Sassafras albidum

Stressed and not able to acquire height, shrubby sprouts along a fenceline displayed the wildest autumn reds I have ever seen…glowing like fire in the sunlight. The three leaf shapes are unique anyway, and especially with the fall color patterns.
Taxodium distichum var. distichum
bald cypress

One tough tree. This swamp tree can thrive even where bulldozers have scraped off every bit of topsoil and stomped out of the ground every bit of oxygen… Its feather-like needles along small branchlets strongly resemble evergreens, but it is deciduous, so don’t cut it down in winter! The globe-shaped woody cones disintegrate at maturity. The tree is excurrent with very strong, decay-resistant wood. Fall color is a deep burnt orange. Cypress knees seen in swamps to stabilize the tree in standing water do not usually form in urban areas. I believe this is my favorite tree.
Tilia americana
American linden

American basswood trees often grow in clumps, the stout, straight trunks and branches are quite strong. Their strength, heart-shaped leaves, flowers, and fruits on parachutes make this and numerous related lindens species and cultivars very popular around homes. I like it. Problem is Japanese beetles like lindens too.
Ulmus americana
American elm

The American elm urban forest has fallen. Research has advanced with hybrids such as ‘Valley Forge.’ I can recommend hybrids as an experiment and a hope. The beetles carrying Dutch elm disease are ever a threat. Proper nutrition is important, reducing stress is important, but no guarantee.