In Missouri, there are around 119 common species of native Missouri trees. For the purpose of this guide, I will divide them based on families. Within these main groups, I will describe a tree or two from each of these families. This basis will be used to help identify different species so that you may gain a better understanding of Missouri and its natural heritage!
For an identification guide of the most common trees of Missouri, feel free to use the dichotomous key for leaves that I made, located at the bottom of the page.
Common Tree Families in Missouri:
- Common name (scientific name) – # of Missourian species within the family
- Specific tree within family: description of tree
- Dogwood (Cornaceae) – 3
- Flowering Dogwood: This tree, the state tree of Missouri, is most commonly distributed in the southern half of Missouri. It has a simple opposite leaf pattern and often is planted as an ornamental for its bright foliage and flowers. Its roots were once used to make red dye and many birds eat its berries.
- Pea/Bean (Fabaceae) – 5
- Eastern Redbud: This species is found throughout the state of Missouri, and used to be commonly planted in city parks and backyards. It has a simple alternate leaf pattern, with leaves that are shiny on top and furry on the bottom. They commonly live between 50 and 75 years and produce large quantities of fruit, which is a large food source for wildlife and is used in pies and jams by humans.
- Willow (Salicaceae) – 8
- Quaking Aspen: This is the most broadly dispersed tree in North America. Its name refers to its simple alternate leaves, which “quake” or shiver in the slightest breeze. These trees often are in pure stands, because they reproduce from the same root systems. In Utah, there is a 106 acre stand that is the single largest organism in the world.
- Eastern Cottonwood: One of eight native Missouri trees in the diverse Willow family, this tree is found in wet soil (often along riverbanks), where it can group up to 100 feet. It has triangular leaves with a simple alternate leaf pattern. It is most easily spotted during Spring, when it releases its abundance of cotton-like substance, which holds its seeds.
- Elm (Ulmaceae) – 5
- American Elm: This tree used to dominate urban landscapes, but has been dramatically reduced by Dutch elm disease, a fungus that grows in the tree’s vascular tissue. It grows up to 100 feet tall and branches out into a large canopy. It has a simple alternate tree pattern and grows throughout Missouri.
- Olive (Oleaceae) – 5
- Blue Ash: This tree is one of many ash trees in Missouri, and is particularly easy to identify because of its compound opposite leaf and twig pattern, which seem four-sided. Its called the Blue Ash because its sap becomes blue when oxidized, and thus can be used as a blue dye. It is often planted in urban environments, and thrives throughout the southern half of Missouri (Tekiela 2006). Currently, the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect species that kills ash trees, is extending its range further south into Missouri. As of September 2015, the emerald ash borer has been found in St. Louis County, after already having been spotted in St. Louis City, St. Charles County, and the area around Kansas City. This invasive species has killed over 50 million trees in the last 10 years, and is seen as a continous threat to ash trees (Zarlenga 2015).
- Birch (Betulaceae) – 4
- Paper Birch: Found across the northern half of North America, this tree is also known as the White Birch or Canoe Birch, in reference to its common use by Native Americans. It has a simple alternate leaf pattern and white bark that easily peels off the tree. This tree grows best in shady conditions as an understory tree.
- Rose (Rosaceae) – 9
- Wild Apple: Apples found in grocery stores descend from this tree. It is often planted alongside roads or in other urban areas. These trees have a simple alternate leaf pattern and grows to just 15 feet, but can live up to 50 feet. The apples from the Wild Apple tree are delicious and used in many pies.
- Beech (Fagaceae) – 21
- American Beech: This tree is one of the most dominant and well-recognized trees in the eastern U.S., with its wood considered to be extremely valuable for furniture. The tree is also very valuable to wildlife because of its abundant beechnuts, which are eaten by most forest animals. It has a simple alternate leaf pattern and is common in southeastern Missouri.
- White Oak: This tree is very valuable for its wood, which is used for flooring, furniture, and whiskey barrels. It is one of fourteen oak species in Missouri, and is most similar to the Bur Oak. This species has a lobed alternate leaf pattern, and can live to be 250 years old. It produces edible acorns and green catkins.
- Pine (Pinaceae) – 9
- Eastern White Pine: This tree is one of the main species of conifers in Missouri. This species can live up to 250 years, and grow 100 feet tall. It has clustered needles and 4-8” resin-coated pinecones. This was the most important species of trees in North America during the 19th Century, because of its use as building material in many Northeastern cities.
- Maple (Aceraceae) – 8
- Sugar Maple: This tree grows up to 70 feet tall, and is most widely used as a source for maple syrup. It is planted in many urban environments and is known for its very hard wood, which is used in furniture and flooring. It has a lobed opposite leaf pattern and is known to live between 150 and 200 years.
- Boxelder: A very common tree in Missouri (especially in wet areas), it is generally considered to be a trash tree. It is an unusual tree in the maple family because its leaves are compound opposite. Like the Sugar Maple, its sap can be made into maple syrup, but it has a lower yield. They grow to 50 feet tall and live to be around 50 years old.
- Walnut (Juglandaceae) – 10
- Shagbark Hickory: This hickory is a part of the true hickory group, as opposed to the pecan hickories, like Butternut Hickory and Pecan. It has compound alternately attached leaflets and edible nuts that are a food source for animals and can be eaten by humans. Its very hard wood is often used to make ski poles and tool handles.
- Black Walnut: This tree has a compound alternate leaf pattern and grows to 75 feet. Its aromatic fruit provides a common food source for wildlife, and husks can be used as a light brown dye. The Walnut’s leaves and roots produce an insecticide, which prevents trees from crowding too close around it.
Species with 1 or 2 Missourian family members:
- Red Mulberry
- Witch-Hazel: Native to Atlantic North America, this tree has been used for centuries for its medicinal purposes. Native Americans used to use the leaves and bark of witch-hazel to treat inflammation and wounds, among other conditions, and it is still used today as a popular herbal home remedy. Native Americans also used to use witch-hazel branches for bows due to their flexible qualities. The species even got its name based on its flexibility, as the Anglo-Saxon term “wych” means flexible. It can be easily identified by its spiky yellow, fragrant flowers that bloom in the fall, as well as its obovate or elliptic leaves about three to six inches in length.
- Horse Chestnut: Although this tree is originally native to southeast Europe, it has been spread to Britain and across to North America over time. Horse chestnut trees can be identified by their large five to twelve inch clusters of white flowers, which bloom in mid-May, as well as their palmately compound leaves, or leaves contain leaflets that extend from the tip of the petiole in a star-like shape. Each leaflet in a horse chestnut leaf has a pointed tip. In addition, this tree produces a brown, spiny fruit just bigger than golf ball that often contains a nut-like seed on the inside. This fruit has become known in Britain as a “conker” and features in an old schoolyard game called “conkers.”
- Eastern Red Cedar: This is one of two native species of the Cypress family in Missouri. This tree has scaly needles and small, dark blue cones that look like blueberries. Its wood is very aromatic and has a beautiful red color, leading to its common use in storage chests. This tree grows back very quickly after a forest fire and can live up to 300 years.
- Tuliptree (Magnolia family)
- Common Prickly-Ash (Rue/Citrus)
- Smooth Sumac (Cashew)
- European Buckthorn
- Eastern Wahoo (Staff-tree)
- Buttonbush (Madder)
- Nannyberry (Honeysuckle)
- Northern Catalpa (Trumpet-Creeper)
Gingko: The only surviving species of an ancient Chinese tree family, this tree is now found throughout Missouri. It has been prized for its medicinal properties and is known for its distinctive simple alternate fan-shaped leaves. The leaves are a deep green color with a leathery texture, with veins that diverge and are almost parallel. Gingko trees are known for their ornamental value and their fungus and insect resistant qualities. Only the male trees are sold because the females make butyric acid, which makes the tree smell bad.
Russian Olive (Oleaster): This small tree has low branches and narrow, silvery leaves. The bark is thin with shallow grooves and sheds in long strips. They produce small flowers in the summer that grow on the leaf axils in clusters of 1 to 3. The fruits are small and yellow with stony pits. Russian Olives are invasive as a result of being planted in yards. Although they aren’t a big threat in Missouri yet, they could become a bigger problem in the future.
American Holly: There are around a dozen trees of the Holly genus that are native to the eastern and southern U.S. and over 300 species of this genus worldwide. The American Holly is most common in the southeastern corner of Missouri and is often planted in yards or parks. Its bright red fruit matures in late summer and can still be found on the tree in the winter. Its cut branches are popular holiday decorations, with its bright red fruit and simple evergreen leaves.
- Common Persimmon (Ebony): These medium-sized trees vary in shape depending on their growing conditions. They can grow up to 60 feet but tend to grow around 30 feet in open growth conditions. They have simple, entire leaves with a leathery texture. The bark is distinctive with deep grooves in a square pattern. They have orange-purple fruits in the fall that are edible when they ripen.
- American Basswood (Linden)
- Sycamore: These massive trees have large white branches with broad leaves with shallow lobes and coarse teeth. They have distinctive bark that sheds to reveal white bark underneath. Flowers bloom April through June in globe-shaped clusters. The fruits form balls consisting of closely packed individual fruits that last through the winter.
- Gum Bumelia (Sapodilla)
- Bald Cypress: Called bald because it’s a deciduous conifer, losing its needles in the fall and growing new ones in the spring, these trees are among the oldest living things in North America. They can live more than 1,000 years and reach more than 40 feet around at its base. This tree is very easy to identify by its large aboveground growths known as knee. They often live near rivers and like sunny to shady areas.
- Pawpaw (Custard-Apple): Pawpaw trees produce delicious, sweet fruit with a variety of uses. These trees have slender trunks and long, simple leaves with entire margins. When crushed, the leaves emit a distinct odor. They can get up to 30 feet tall and grow in colonies. In the spring, pawpaw trees produce 1-inch reddish-purple flowers. In addition to humans, animals such as birds, squirrels, raccoons, and opossums enjoy pawpaw fruits.
- Sassafras (Laurel): Sassafras trees are easily identified by the three different types of leaves: entire, mitten-shaped, and trident-shaped. When crushed, they give off an odor. These trees can grow up to 60 feet tall and often form colonies. Sassafras was used for medicinal teas and marketed as a cure-all in Europe. It’s also a flavoring for traditional root beers, but it has been banned in commercial goods due to the presence of carcinogenic compounds.
- American Bladdernut
- Devil’s-Walking stick (Ginseng)
*Species without family names are self-explanatory (Bald Cypress = Bald Cypress family)
Tekiela, Stan. Trees of Missouri: Field Guide. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2006. 264 p.
Emerald Ash Borer Section under Blue Ash:
Zarlenga, Dan. “MDC: Emeral Ash Borer Now Confirmed in St. Louis County.” Missouri Department of Conservation. MDC, 14 Sept. 2015. Web.
TAMU. “Trees of Texas.” Texas A&M Forest Service. TAMU. Web.
Created by the Ozark Postcard Publishers, Monett, Mo and sourced from the Boston Public Library collection. Can be found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_beautiful_scene_on_Current_River_in_the_Ozarks_(79270).jpg#/media/File:A_beautiful_scene_on_Current_River_in_the_Ozarks_(79270).jpg#/media/File: