MDC foresters say avoid planting invasive trees

News from the region
Kansas City
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Homeowners can help conservation by wisely choosing native trees and shrubs to plant this spring. Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) foresters suggest that native trees can provide showy blooms in spring while also boosting butterflies and wildlife. Non-native trees are generally less beneficial, and some oft-planted ornamentals, such as Bradford pear, have become invasive and harmful to natural areas.

Downy serviceberry is an early blooming native tree that grows well in ornamental settings. Serviceberry is covered with white flowers in early April. The trees grow well in home landscape plantings and produce red berries that are edible by birds and people, said Wendy Sangster, MDC urban forester.

Other native choices include dogwood, yellowwood, redbud, blackhaw viburnum, hophornbeam and chokecherry. The venerable redbud tree blushes with lavish lavender flowers in spring, grows quickly and provides shade. Wild plum provides delicate white flowers for yards where a small tree fits landscape design. Dogwood trees, an Ozark native with classic four-petal white flowers, will grow in Kansas City if planted in partial shade.

Native plants and trees are a desirable part of nature’s food chain that attracts watchable wildlife. Insects evolved with natives. Those insects, such as butterfly caterpillars, provide food for birds. A native tree is essentially a living, summer time, backyard bird feeder.

Non-native trees support far fewer insects. But they also pose problems for wild areas valued for native plants on private and public lands. Bradford pears, for example, have been often planted as ornamentals in the past because they provide white blooms in spring and experts formerly considered them safe. They are hybrids and it was believed they could not produce viable seed. But a varied mix of cultivars allowed some Bradford pears to cross pollinate and produce viable seed. Those seeds are spread by birds into natural areas. Bradford pears are a Callery pear cultivar. The cultivars from Asia compete well because they leaf out early and crowds out valuable native species. Bradford pears are also poor landscaping choices because they are not strong and limbs break easily in storms, Sangster said.

MDC offers information about home landscape trees that help people and wildlife at

The Heartland Tree Alliance, an MDC partner, provides information about trees that do well in the Kansas City area at A useful source for information about native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees is available at

The right tree in the right place is important because trees provide shade, clean air and wildlife habitat, Sangster said. Extra care in planting trees keeps both the urban forest and wild lands healthy.