My husband and I began cleaning out a small section of woods near the house so that we could plant more desirable native tree seedlings and small shrubs.
Plants and trees that needed to be removed such as elm, hackberry, bush honeysuckle, Japanese honeysuckle vine, buck brush, plantain, and just other plain old weeds.
During this process, I was very excited to discover several native shrubs and small trees that I had not previously known were growing in this area of the forest.
• Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) is one of ten species of Viburnums that are native to Missouri and surrounding states in the Midwest. They grow to a height of 30 feet with a spread of 20 feet. In April and May, they are adorned with numerous, small white flowers in flattened, round-topped clusters 2-4 inches wide. The blue-black berry is a half-inch long and elliptical with a whitish coating on long red stalks, occuring in September and October. The flesh of the fruits are thin and dry, but edible and sweet.
• Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), also known as Wild Allspice, gets its name for the aromatic smell when the leaves are crushed, and the taste of the spicy bark. The leaves stay green until mid to late autumn, when they turn to greenish yellow. It flowers March through May before the leaves appear. The yellow, fragrant flowers are a quarter-inch wide in clusters of 3-6 along the stem of the shrub, with male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious). The glossy red, fleshy berries appear in September and October, solitary or in small clusters on short stalks. These are also spicy.
• Possum Haw (Ilex decidua) was another nice surprise hidden away just 50 feet from my front door. This native shrub is also known as Deciduous Holly, and is directly related to all hollies. While it generally grows as a small shrub, it can grow as tall as 30 feet and take the form of a tree. The leaves are not like the typical holly you see during the Christmas season, but they do have short round, or blunt “teeth.” White flowers appear in April and May, with orange to red globe-shaped berries appearing in September and October. Berries persist through winter even after the leaves drop. The shrubs are dioecious, and only the female trees produce the berries.
During my forest cleaning project, I also found several dogwoods, including Round-leaved Dogwood (Cornus rugosa) and Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii). One dogwood that I spotted a few years ago in this area was a tree that my husband I planted about 15 years ago when I first showed him the land before we began building our home. We planted about 20 flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida). I found one of these, now about 12 feet tall. It was covered by elm trees and didn’t have enough sun to flower. That’s why it is important to clean out some of the less desirable trees and plants.
All of the trees and shrubs that I’ve mentioned here are beautiful to see, native to the area, and provide fruits for wildlife. Take a walk in the woods and see what you might discover.
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.