Return of the Native... Shrubs

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Published on: Apr. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

as well as for divining or dowsing sticks to search for water sources.

Eastern witch hazel can bloom from November through December, making it often the last Missouri shrub to flower during the year. The yellow flowers have a spicy fragrance and can be somewhat showy when borne on leafless branches. Fruits are hard capsules that split open suddenly when mature, expelling the seeds as far as 30 feet. Preferring light shade, eastern witch hazel can grow to a height of 10 to 12 feet. Autumn foliage is yellow.

Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

Although resembling the more widespread Ohio buckeye, red buckeye seldom grows to more than 10 to 15 feet in height. Native to parts of southern Missouri, gardeners can grow it at least as far north as central Missouri. The deep red flower clusters are a magnet for hummingbirds during April and May. Fruits contain several hard, shiny "buckeyes" within a leathery husk. Both fruits and leaves are poisonous if eaten, and wildlife largely ignores the seeds.

Red buckeye prefers rich soil and partial shade. Its dark green leaves appear early in spring and are shed after yellowing in late summer or fall.

Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

During its flowering period in April and May, fringe tree really shines. Its drooping clusters of fringelike white flowers almost obscure the emerging leaves. It also goes by the other common name of "old man's beard." Individual shrubs function as male or female plants, with the male plants being more showy in flower. It may be difficult to locate plants of known sex, however, because most propagation is from seed. The sex of the shrubs is not known until they reach flowering age.

In late summer the blue-black ripe fruits resemble small olives. Fringe tree performs best in full sun or light shade and tolerates a wide range of soil moisture conditions. Although the shrub is native to parts of southern Missouri, you can plant fringe tree throughout the state. Old shrubs may reach a height of 20 feet, usually forming a broad, rounded crown with multiple stems.

Additional information on Missouri shrubs can be found in a new Conservation Department publication, Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri, which provides descriptions and illustrations of 170 species, including native shrubs with potential for use in home landscaping. You can buy it in paperback from Conservation Department nature centers and offices that sell publications, or you can order it directly by sending $9 to Missouri Department of Conservation, Nature Shop, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, 65102-0180. Missouri residents add 6.225 percent sales tax. Shipping for one book is $2.00.

Naturescaping is the practice of creating landscaping that closely matches native habitats in your region. It results in a less formal arrangement of native plantings to provide food and cover for wildlife. Corridors for wildlife, accessible water sources, brushpiles and basking areas may be used to create a more wildlife-friendly backyard habitat.

Good reasons for using native plants in residential landscaping include:

  • Many species provide excellent food and cover for native wildlife.
  • Natives are adapted to Missouri's climate and soils and require little or no watering or fertilizing. Keep in mind, however, that soil disturbances associated with construction, such as compaction, grading or topsoil removal, can create poor growing conditions for any plants.
  • Native species are less likely to suffer from plant pests or diseases, having adapted to coexist with local threats. This, in combination with less watering or fertilizing, can result in substantial cost savings over the life of native plants.
  • Natives add diversity to residential landscapes that are largely devoid of native plants.

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