MDC recommends native species for spring planting

By Bill Graham

MO Department of Conservation

Kansas City, Mo. – A homeowner or property manager can do much good for conservation by being selective about what trees, shrubs, or vines they plant for shade or ornamentation. For example, native plants host more insects, including beautiful butterflies. That provides a variety of adult and larval prey for songbirds to feed on. Many non-natives introduced in past decades have become invasive and harmful to native plants and wildlife. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) provides resources that can help people establish greenery that benefits nature.


Redbud in bloom: Redbud trees are a native species of flowering trees that bloom brightly with lavender and pink in spring, and gold or yellow in autumn. (Photo by Bill Graham)

Many western Missouri towns and even rural areas are finding non-native, invasive species to be a problem. The invaders often provide minimal value for wildlife, and their prolific growth crowds out desirable native trees or plants.

One example is Callery pear, sold as various cultivars that some people refer to as Bradford pears. They have been often used in urban landscape plantings due to a blush of white blooms in spring. But those blooms soon fade away. The trees have poor resistance to wind or ice damage. Even hybrid versions have managed to cross pollinate and produce seed. Their seeds are spread by birds and wind, letting them invade right of ways, fence lines, meadows and woodlands. MDC recommends that people seek good native alternatives for spring flowering trees, such as serviceberry, American plum, hawthorn, and eastern redbud.

Spring is planting time. But early spring is also a time when property owners and homes associations can inspect natural areas and public green spaces for non-native and invasive plants. Bush honeysuckle, a thick-growing and prickly nuisance, is a non-native that prevents natives from growing under or near it. This invader is especially a problem in the Kansas City area. Winter creeper is a non-native and invasive vine that climbs trees and covers the ground. Garlic mustard, another non-native and invasive plant, outcompetes and blocks natives normally found in forests and woodlands. Pulling, cutting, or spraying them with herbicide in late winter or early spring can reduce on their spread. Persistent efforts can eliminate them from lots or small acreages.

Most spring landscape planting is done to create pleasant greenery in the summer and nice foliage colors in the fall. But for people who enjoy butterflies and birds, or who want to support pollinators such as beetles and bees, plant choices are important. For tips on planting the right tree in the right place, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZAh. The Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Grow Native! program provides seed and seedling sources and plant information at https://www.moprairie.org/GrowNative.

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