Think native when replacing landscape trees

News from the region
Published Date

JEFFERSON CITY–Stately oaks that once shaded front yards lost the battle with drought. Ornamental pear trees that used to bid ironic farewells to winter with blizzards of white blossoms were wrecked by winter storms. As home and business owners set about replacing lost landscape trees, the Missouri Department of Conservation has a word of advice – natives.

The past 12 months have not been pretty for the Show-Me State’s home and community landscapes. Many trees withered in last year’s record-breaking heat and drought. Ash trees and others already stressed by disease, parasites, or storm damage were particularly hard-hit. January and February brought wet, heavy snowfall that ripped limbs from silver maples, Bradford pears, and other fast-growing trees with soft wood.

With every challenge comes opportunity, however. The need to replace trees is a chance to choose varieties that prevent future problems. The first thing to do is not plant trees that are doomed to failure. Ash trees fall in this category, because of the relentless approach of the emerald ash borer.

Bradford and other varieties of the decorative callery pear tree grow fast and flower profusely. However, their fast growth produces soft, weak wood that makes the trees vulnerable to snow, ice, and wind storms.

Another strike against the callery pear is the ability of different sterile varieties of this Asian import to cross pollinate. The resulting seeds grow into trees that are extremely aggressive and thorny. They rapidly take over old fields and displace native trees in forests.

“The thorns on these will make control and removal VERY difficult, certainly dangerous, and definitely costly once they have matured and grown together,” says Forestry Field Programs Supervisor Nick Kuhn.”

Natural History Biologist Susan Farrington says native tree species offer landowners a variety of excellent choices for replacing lost or damaged trees.

“The best tree to substitute for a callery pear is our native serviceberry,” says Farrington. “It blooms just as early, has gorgeous white flowers, great fall color, and great berries that are attractive to birds and humans alike. Serviceberry is a little more difficult to find at nurseries than exotic pears, but it’s well worth the trouble. They are adapted to Missouri’s climate and soils, are less prone to weather damage, and they don’t come with the ecological liabilities of imports.”

Farrington says nurseries specializing in native plants are more likely to sell serviceberry trees.

Missouri’s state tree, the flowering dogwood, blooms a little later than serviceberry and has a highly aesthetic, tiered shape that makes it a favorite of landscapers. The redbud tree, another native, also is well-adapted to Missouri, and its vivid purple blossoms are unexcelled for spring beauty. These and other trees from Missouri stock are best suited to growing here. When possible, buy from locally owned nurseries that grow trees in Missouri.

For replacing larger shade trees, Farrington suggests red or white oaks and red or sugar maples. She cautions against golden rain tree, tree of heaven, and princess tree, all Asian imports that drop lots of litter on the ground and can be invasive. Exotic Norway maples and Amur maples are also highly invasive.

“Just explain to the nursery staff that you want to stick with native trees,” says Farrington. “There are plenty of great trees out there that don’t have all the disadvantages of many imports.”

-Jim Low-

To follow MDC on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Flickr, or to receive RSS feeds, visit and click on the icons at the bottom of the page.