Native Plants

Native Missouri Plants for Landscaping [with Pictures]

Missouri is one of the most biodiverse states in the United States, meaning there are many different kinds of plants. Missouri Native plants are plants that have historically been found in Missouri and are adapted to our climate and soil conditions.

Missouri Native Trees for Landscaping

Black Walnut

Black Walnut is often found on rocky hillsides, bluffs, and open woodlands. It prefers full to partial sun and will grow in any soil. Black walnut wood is solid and complex but can be used for making furniture. It is a common tree found in Missouri and used for wildlife food and shelter. It is an attractive tree that can be used for landscaping. Black walnut trees can grow up to 100 feet tall and live up to 200 years.

Slash Pine

Native to the Ozarks, slash pine will grow well in Missouri gardens giving shade with its narrow crowns of branches, later becoming golden yellow in winter with prominent evergreen needles that shed each spring. The bark is very similar to the Ponderosa Pine and is rigid and relatively smooth without peeling or flaking. Slash pine is the most commonly cut tree in Missouri.

Shingle Oak

It is commonly found in deep rich woods, along streams and rivers. The leaf for the Shingle Oak is excellent for fern viewing because of its bright yellow-green color when it first grows and then turns a light grey-green with maturity. It prefers full sun to partial shade with various soil types but will grow in most conditions.

Kentucky Coffeetree

Kentucky Coffeetree is a huge shade tree that can get up to 100 feet tall and 200 feet wide but requires sandy soil. It is most commonly found in the Ozarks and southern areas of Missouri. This tree grows as a multi-trunk tree that can have between 3 and 7 trunks. They also have large, curved leaves and heavy wood that makes them hard to cut and not great for furniture or firewood because the wood is so hard. The leaves are great for fern viewing because they turn a lovely yellow-brown color with winter weather.

Black Cherry

The black cherry is very common, easy to find, and grows in various conditions. It readily colonizes disturbed sites with abundant light and nutrients, such as soil exposed by road construction or burning over adjacent forested areas. It is a shade tree that prefers full sun to partial shade and can grow in any soil condition. It can also be an ornamental tree and is often used as a bonsai.

White Oak

The white oak is one of the giant trees found in Missouri and is easy to identify because it has leaves that resemble an acorn. It likes full sun and will grow in any soil conditions with little water required. They are common in Missouri but hard to find in parks or gardens because they are considered not ornamental but have excellent fall colors.

Silver Maple

Silver Maple can get up to 60 feet high and 40 feet wide. It has a broad, rounded crown of finely-toothed leaves with a slightly rough surface. The bark is light gray, and the sap is milky. It can have from one to three trunks covered in shaggy bark. It is often commonly seen along streams, but it can grow in various soil conditions but does not require much water or nutrients to live.

Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar can be used as both an ornamental tree and a firewood tree. It is very aromatic and has evergreen needle-like leaves that turn brown in the fall, so it is also known as Red Cedar. It is often used for landscaping as a hedge, which Missouri usually has little of, but it likes full sun to partial shade and will grow in any soil condition but prefers sandy or rocky soil.

American Elm

The American Elm is a short tree that will grow up to 80 feet tall and can easily be identified because it has an alternate compound leaf in the form of 4-lobed leaves. The bark is rough and will have yellow-brown color when the tree is young. It does not need much water or nutrients to survive. It is common in Missouri but is not a common ornamental tree but can be found in some parks and backyards.

American Sycamore

The American Sycamore is a common tree in Missouri and is easy to identify because it has a coarse texture with diamond-shaped leaves and large rounded cones. It grows about 40 feet tall and prefers full sun but can grow in partial shade with little water or nutrient requirements. It is commonly seen along streams where water has eroded the soil so much that the roots are not disturbed by hard rocks or soil. This makes it also great for erosion control for those with over-processed land because it needs little to survive.

Pin Oak

The Pin Oak is a small tree that will reach 30 feet tall and 30 feet wide with a broad rounded crown, but it can grow up to 45 feet tall. It has a light gray bark, which is unusual for an oak tree. Its leaves are simple and alternate with shallow lobes and long acuminate tips. These leaves turn yellow in the fall and provide excellent color for viewing ferns. This tree also has short, stout spines on young branchlets, which become smooth as the branchlet matures into adult foliage.

American Hornbeam

It is a small tree that can be found throughout Missouri and is also known as Buckthorn. It has alternate, simple leaves with egg-shaped to diamond-shaped lobes. The flowers are small and white in clusters of several dozen together on an erect stalk from 1/4 – 1/2 inch long. The nuts are oblongs with an edible shell and a thin membrane that can be eaten when it falls off the tree. It grows best in full sun with little water needed, but some areas have more moisture which it grows better in because of its shallow root system.

Bradford Pear

The Bradford pear is a huge tree that can grow up to 100 feet tall with a vast trunk. It is found in all sorts of soil conditions but prefers full sun and can grow in any soil. The leaves are alternate, simple, 2-lobed, 5-8 inches long, and ovate with short blunt teeth on the edges. The flowers are small and white with five petals. They are often used as ornamental trees because they are easy to find and like full sun to partial shade but do well in most soil conditions. They are common in Missouri but require an extensive root system to be in the ground, or they can grow huge and be unsightly.

Missouri Native Shrubs for Landscaping

Common Viburnum

It is commonly found in the Ozarks and south-central Missouri. It has alternate, simple leaves that are elliptical and a little hairy. The flowers are white, round, or slightly flat heads in clusters of several dozen to several hundred. This shrub grows well in full sun or partial shade with nearly any soil type but can become invasive if not controlled through mechanical removal, herbicide use, or fire.

Blackhaw

Blackhaw is abundant throughout Missouri and southern areas of the Midwest. It has alternate, simple leaves that are elliptical to egg-shaped. The flowers are small and pinkish-white in clusters of several dozen, but they can also be solitary. It is commonly used as a honey plant because of the sweet nectar produced by the flowers. It grows best in full sun with little water or nutrients needed.

Common Persimmon

It is a common shrub in Missouri that is predominately found in the Ozarks and south-central Missouri. It is often found on the floodplain of a river or creek. The leaves are simple, alternate, and elliptical with rounded tips. The leaves can also be elliptical to egg-shaped, ranging from 2-6 inches long to 1 inch wide. The flowers are small and yellowish white in clusters of several to several dozen flowers on an erect stalk from 3/4 – 2 1/2 inches long. This shrub grows in nearly any soil type but does best in well-drained sandy and loamy soils with lots of organic matter.

Wax Myrtle

Wax Myrtle grows natively in the Ozarks, south-central Missouri, extreme eastern Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana. It is a small shrub growing up to six feet tall and has alternate, simple leaves that are oval or egg-shaped. The roots have an aromatic scent often used for making candles and perfumes.

American Hazelnut

American Hazelnut can be found throughout the Ozarks and south-central Missouri. It has alternate, simple leaves with serrated edges on the end of its scale-like surface. The flowers are tiny in clusters of several to several dozen on an erect stalk, usually half an inch long or less. The nut is then shelled with a single seed, which can be eaten fresh or dried for baking or brewing beer.

American Holly

It is also called “American Bayberry” in Missouri. It can reach over 6 feet tall and grow in nearly any soil type but does best in well-drained sandy loam soil with lots of organic matter. The leaves have a long pointy tip with short needle-like teeth on the top and flat leaf, which are often red or green above with long pointed tips, and a shallow lobed base below; they are gray to grayish green underneath. The flowers are small, bright yellow, and appear on the leaf axils in late winter or early spring.

Sweet Pepperbush

Sweet Pepperbush grows throughout the Ozarks and south-central Missouri. It grows best in moist soil and will grow in nearly any location. It has alternate, simple leaves that are oval to egg-shaped with smooth edges. The flowers are small and pinkish-white to greenish white in clusters of several to several dozen flowers together with an erect stalk from 3/8 – 1 1/2 inches long.

Yellowwood

It is a small shrub growing up to 6 feet tall and found throughout southern Missouri. It has alternate, simple leaves that are egg-shaped to elliptical and a little hairy on edge. It can also be found in northern Missouri. The flowers are small and yellowish-green with an inflorescence of several to several dozen flowers on an erect stalk that is 1/4 – 1/2 inch long.

Velvet Leaf

Velvet Leaf grows throughout the Ozarks and south-central Missouri. It can grow up to 5 feet tall but is commonly found below 3 feet. The leaves are alternate and simple, with a round base and obtuse apex. The texture of this plant is soft to the touch because of the hairs on the underside of each leaf and its flattened shape. The flowers are small and cream-colored with pink veins in clusters along an erect stalk from 3/8 – 1/2 inch long

Silverleaf Sensitive-Briar

Silverleaf grows along the rocky bluffs in the Ozarks and south-central Missouri. It is a small, woody shrub that grows up to 4 feet tall. It has simple leaves, with one side being rounded and the other with a tapered edge. The flowers are small and white to greenish white in clusters of six to ten on an erect stalk from 1/4 – 3/4 inch long.

Smooth Sumac

Smooth Sumac can grow up to 6 feet tall and only grows natively in Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Illinois, and Indiana. The leaves are alternate and simple with entire margins. The flowers are small and yellowish-green in clusters of four to seven together on an erect stalk from 1/8 – 3/8 inch long. The fruit is a red drupe that is juicy, sweet, and sour at the same time.

Smooth Dock

Smooth Dock grows throughout the Ozarks, south-central Missouri, eastern Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky. It grows best in moist soil but will grow in nearly any location with little water or nutrients needed. It has alternate, oval-shaped leaves with smooth edges.

Sassafras

Sassafras grows throughout the Ozarks and south-central Missouri. It only grows up to 5 feet tall and will grow in nearly any soil type but does best in well-drained sandy loam soil with lots of organic matter such as leaves or tree roots. The leaves are alternate with distinct oval teeth along their edges, with a long pointy tip and slight “V” shape at the base of the leaf stalk.

Missouri Native Perennials for Landscaping

Butterfly Milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed can grow up to 2 feet tall with a spread of 2 to 3 feet. It prefers moist soil and will grow in nearly any location. The leaves are alternate, simple, and have a sizeable pointed tip with fine teeth along their edges. The flowers are small and purple to orange in color with an inflorescence of three to four together on an erect stalk from 1/4 – 1/2 inch long; It can be found in the Ozarks and mountains of Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Showy Milkweed

Showy Milkweed can grow up to 2 feet tall with a spread of 1 1/2 to 2 feet. It prefers moist soil and will grow in nearly any location. The leaves are alternate and simple, with a long, narrow pointy tip and fine teeth along their edges. The flowers are small and purple-pink with an inflorescence of two or three on an erect stalk from 3/8 – 1 inch long. It can be found in the Ozarks, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Rabbit Tobacco

Rabbit Tobacco can grow up to 4 feet tall with a spread of 3′ to 4′. It prefers moist soil and will grow in nearly any location. The leaves are alternate, simple, and have one side flat and the other side tapered at the end toward the base. The flowers are small and white to cream in clusters of six to eight on an erect stalk from 3/8 – 1/2 inch long. It can be found in the Ozarks, south-central Missouri, eastern Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky.

Side Oats Grama

Side Oats Grama can grow up to 8 feet tall with a spread of 2′ to 4′. It prefers moist soil but will grow in nearly any location. The leaves are alternate and simple, with a pointed tip with fine teeth along their edges. The flowers are small and greenish-white in clusters of four or five on an erect stalk from 1/4 – 1/2 inch long. It can be found in the Ozarks, south-central Missouri, east-central Kansas, Illinois, and Oklahoma.

Rose Turtlehead

Rose Turtlehead can grow up to 6 feet tall with a spread of 3′ to 4′. It prefers moist soil and will grow in nearly any location. The leaves are alternate, simple, and have one side flat and the other side tapered at the end toward the base. Flowers are small and white to cream with an inflorescence of three on an erect stalk from 3/8 – 1 inch long. It can be found in Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois.

White Prairie Clover

White Prairie Clover can grow up to 12 feet tall but is commonly found growing at 4 to 8 feet tall. It prefers moist soil and will grow in nearly any location. The leaves are alternate, simple, and have a long pointy tip with fine teeth along their edges. The flowers are small and white to cream-yellow with an inflorescence of two or three on an erect stalk from 3/8 – 1 inch long. It is found throughout the Ozarks, south-central Missouri, eastern Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky.

Brown-Eyed Susans

It can grow up to 2 feet tall with a spread of 1 1/2 to 2 feet. It prefers moist soil and will grow in nearly any location. The leaves are alternate and simple, with one side flat and the other tapered at the end toward the base on an erect stalk from 3/8 – 1 inch long. Flowers are small and yellow in clusters of two to three on an erect stalk from 3/8 – 3/4 inch long. It can be found throughout the Ozarks, south-central Missouri, eastern Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and Georgia.

Conclusion

Missouri has many native trees, shrubs, and perennials that provide beauty, food, shelter, and habitat for wild animals. These plants need to be protected and left alone! Please don’t dig them up or cut them down. While they might look wild, they are native wildlife essential to the Ozarks’ ecosystem. They have been growing here for thousands of years and have adapted to the climate and conditions of the Ozarks. Some of these plants can even survive on limited water. Please do not cut them down or pull them up! Let them grow and thrive! When going to the Ozarks, take some time to look around. You will find something beautiful and exciting almost every day. The Ozarks have many native plants, trees, shrubs, and perennials adapted to the climate and conditions. Some of these plants can even hide underground for years before returning in spring. Just because an area has a bunch of dead trees doesn’t mean it’s been visited recently, especially in the spring when all of these seeds blow around, and you’ll find them in places you least expect.