Spring is my favorite time of year. As I look outside my window on a cool wet and otherwise dreary landscape and wait patiently for winter to end, I cannot wait for the forest to awake as the temperatures rise and flowering trees begin to bloom.
In the early springs of past years, I have loved walking down a forested slope of oaks after a spring rain when the cool humid air hangs heavily amidst the scattered glow of an understory of service berries and redbuds.
The haunting sounds of a pileated woodpecker’s call as it swoops though the forest annoyed by my presence and the rushing sound of upland creeks turned into cascading waterfalls reminds me how full of life an Ozark forest is in the spring.
On one of these memorable early spring hikes, below the high canopy of oaks and hickories, toothwort lights up the dark forest floor along the ridge; pollen intermingled with the sweet scent of decaying leaf matter lazily floats on a the breeze. Yes, these are some of my found memories of the beginning of an Ozark spring.
As home gardeners within the city limits of Rolla, we can recreate an early Ozark spring within our home garden landscapes by incorporating Missouri native early flowering trees. Of the native flowering trees to Missouri, service berries and redbuds are some of the showiest and can be a rewarding addition to any woodland garden.
Any woodland landscape should include at least one redbud tree. As with most understory trees the redbud prefers growing in light shade. Growing up to 30 feet high and developing a picturesque rounded 20-foot crown, the more light a redbud receives the more pale pink-purple blossoms it has in the spring from March to as late as April.
The redbud tree can grow very well in full sun, though I have found that it is most happy when on the edge of a mature forest or underneath a high canopy deciduous tree such as an oak or a maple where plenty of light penetrates to the forest floor. It is truly one of the “Great Native North American landscape trees” and is known across the globe for its beauty.
Keep in mind when planting redbuds, that they prefer average to moist soil conditions which have a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. In nature they are often found along moist wooded slopes, often growing within wet weather creeks in well drained loam soil. Having a deep taproot, redbud trees can take moderate drought conditions and can tolerate nutrient poor soil conditions, but should receive supplemental water in times when rainfall is scarce. There are many cultivars of redbud trees on the market, but I prefer buying native seedlings.
Page 2 of 2 - Service Berry:
The service berry tree, a Missouri native, is fantastic in native woodland garden landscapes and can grow up to 25 feet tall. It is at home on Ozark river bluffs and is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. Not to be confused with the invasive callery pear, the service berry lights up the edges of oak hickory forests in March or April when it becomes covered in beautiful white blossoms.
Like the redbud, plant the service berry on the edge of a woodland garden, or under a break in high deciduous canopy. White pine, short-leaf pine and other conifers should not be used as canopy trees because their dense growth blocks too much sunlight to allow understory trees to grow properly. Service berry trees like the redbud tree prefer average to moist soil and will increase bloom production when exposed to more direct light.
When searching at a local nursery for an understory tree to fit your home landscape, try one of these early blooming natives. You will not be disappointed.