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Silo Trees

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

For years, truckers on U.S. Highway 50 between Warrensburg and Sedalia noticed a beautiful, full tree top rising from an old silo. They told their families about it when they arrived back home.

This tree-in-a-silo is near Knob Noster, the gateway to Whiteman Air Force Base. The tree is a 48-year-old mulberry; adult community residents vouch for its age because many of them grew up with the tree. They knew about it before its full, visible branches blossomed above the silo's top edge.

The owners of this picturesque tree are Chester and Ruth Thompson. Thompson now raises cattle but does not use the old silo. He simply lets Mother Nature and the silo "do their thing" for all who pass by to admire.

Just across the highway, on the farm of Randy Rittman, is another silo. Built into the side of the barn, it is covered with a lush drapery of Virginia creeper. Rittman allows the vine to grow each summer, but he has to fight it off the barn.

Another seemingly misplaced tree is in a silo at the intersection of Johnson County roads "N" and "E," northeast of Knob Noster and northwest of LaMonte, near Dunksburg. A hackberry grows there, in a silo built by R. Seaton Tyler that has not been in use for 40 years. The floor of the silo has a one-foot depth of earth, and there is a large crack in the foundation. The early energy of the hackberry pushed its way through the crack and the tree now opens its branches gratefully to the sky.

This tree is on the original pioneer property of the Gowan family. It's now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Caldwell.

Within a quick trip from Kansas City, just outside Odessa off 131 and on "U," is a cousin hackberry. This teenage silo-tree has a narrow but tall trunk. The branches are small and one bends gracefully over the silo edge.

The former owner, Merle Culbertson, says, "I've never known how such a small trunk could grow so tall!" Culbertson's daughter is now proprietor of the young tree.

In southwestern Missouri, just off Highway 71, an elm grows out of a short silo, and a bit further north, but not seen from the road, is another silo tree. Two silo trees are near the location of the former town of Pappinsville, 7 miles out of Rich Hill, off county roads "B" and "N" in Bates County.

Early in this century, Clayburn Webb, a dairy farmer, had a red tile silo built. This silo was still in use 55 years ago to store sargo corn for a large herd of Jersey cows. Kenneth Campbell, an area grain farmer, recalls working on the Webb farm and filling the silo that now is filled with a tree.

The branches are above the silo top. The location is one mile north of Truman Road and one-eighth mile west on Murphy School Road, about 20 miles from downtown Kansas City.

Another silo, which has lost some 4 feet of its original structure, holds a flourishing tree. This is on the farm of Clarence Hold, on Richfield Road in Clay County, just outside Liberty. This tree is the largest I've found. Its leaves are a rich green color and overflow the silo's top.

Two exceptional trees grow in a silo near Lawson beside Highway 69. Bob Sharp, a former owner, climbed the silo and reported the trees growing there side by side. One is younger and shorter than the other, with branches barely reaching the silo's top.

Silos, whether of wood, tile, brick or concrete, usually contain rich silage remains. Open to the rain and sun and providing protection from the winter cold, they provide a fertile if unusual habitat for trees.

Nature, a consumate matchmaker, finds ways to introduce trees to these special environments. Perhaps birds or squirrels bring tree seeds to these silos, or maybe the old foundations shift a bit to allow dormant tree roots to push up.

The trees in these narrow environments typically grow tall quickly to reach the sun. As they strive and flourish, they testify to nature's tenacity and to the bounty of life in Missouri.

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