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Native Plants

trees with fall colors illustrationColorful Trees Promote Clean Water

Fall is right around the corner when trees trade their green leaves for vibrant, autumn hues. Many trees and shrubs native to our region also have beautiful fall foliage, letting you enjoy fall colors in your yard while improving water quality in your community. The growing season is far from over, as planting trees and shrubs between September and November is ideal for allowing trees to establish roots before the ground freezes. Fall’s stable air temperature promotes rapid root development, enabling root systems to grow before the hot, summer season returns1.

When rain is unable to seep into the ground, it runs off of impermeable surfaces such as driveways and streets, picking up pollutants along the way. This untreated water eventually finds its way to our streams, lakes, and rivers. Native trees and shrubs have deeper root systems that substantially increase the ability of the soil to absorb, filter and retain water naturally. In addition to reducing pollution in local waterways, planting trees during fall’s cooler temperatures and increased rainfall reduces the need for watering, saving you money on your water bill.
By planting native trees and shrubs, you can reduce maintenance costs, protect water quality, and enhance fall colors in your neighborhood. You can help keep our water clean by choosing native plants. Learn more about how native plants improve water quality»

Five Natives for Beautiful Fall Color

Images and information used with permission from the GrowNative! program.

American Basswood, Ilia americanaAmerican Basswood Ilia americana
American Basswood is a tall, stately tree that turns deep yellow in the fall.

Black Gum, Nyssa sylvaticaBlack Gum Nyssa sylvatica
Black gum is one of the best trees for spectacular fall color. Its leaves turn from fluorescent yellow, to orange, to scarlet red, to purple colors, and produces dark blue fruit that birds love.

Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovataShagbark Hickory Carya ovata
Shagbark Hickory is a large, deciduous tree with fall coloring ranging from deep yellow to golden brown.

Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabraSmooth Sumac Rhus glabra
Smooth Sumac is a spreading, open-growing shrub with brilliant red fall foliage.

Spicebush, Lindera benzoinSpicebush Lindera benzoin
Broad and rounded, Spicebush is a multi-stemmed shrub that turns a golden hue—female plants produce small, red fruit.


GrowNative! logoThe Native Plant Database hosted by GrowNative!, an initiative by the Missouri Prairie Foundation, is a wonderful resource to explore your options.

See more attractive and ideal options for residents who want to start landscaping their yards with native plants. Download a PDF of this information»    En Español»

See a list of retailers where you can shop for native plants.

Become a Tree Keeper

Join The Heartland Tree Alliance’s Tree Keeper program to promote environmental stewardship in the Kansas City region. Joined by other volunteers, tree keepers lead planting, pruning, and maintenance projects for local municipalities, school districts, and neighborhood associations in the community. Participants will receive training in environmental awareness, while learning basic arboricultural principles. Through 12 hours of classroom time and six hours of hands-on outdoor training, participants learn tree identification, site suitability, proper planting techniques, after-planting care and pruning. This comprehensive course provides municipalities with educated community members trained to preserve and protect newly established trees. Register for the fall 2016 course.

Technology for Trees

Explore nature with a mobile device on your next outdoor adventure, or right in your own backyard. Various apps allow you to identify and learn about trees in your community using visual recognition software or device location. Download apps that will help you become a tree expert:

  • Leafsnap: Uses visual recognition software to identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. Features high-resolution photos of their flowers, fruits, petioles (leaf stalks), seeds, and bark. Contains tree species common to the northwest portion of North America and Canada, but work is underway to include rest of the U.S.
  • vTree:  Virginia Tech’s tree ID app and website contains fact sheets for 969 woody plants from all over North America. Users can narrow the species list for any location in North America using the phone's GPS, network signal, or address.
  • TreeBook: Features layman’s terms as well as detailed terminology for 100 of the most common trees in North America.
  • Audubon Trees: Discover 716 North American species. Record your sightings in the journal feature through the app’s geolocation tool.

More Tree-rific Resources

  • Kansas City Power & Light Planting Guidelines: KCPL’s “Right Tree Right Place” video series helps homeowners identify the ideal location to plant trees to beatify neighborhoods, improve air quality, and conserve energy. The series and additional planting guidelines protect residents from property damage and safety hazards due to improperly placed trees. Visit KCPL’s website to learn more.
  • Tree City USA: Kansas City and many municipalities in our region are members of Tree City USA, a nationwide movement that provides the framework necessary for communities to manage and expand their public trees. Find out if your community is a Tree City, and learn about the benefits of sustainable forestry.
  • Kansas City Champion Tree List: Since 1955, volunteers have recorded the most immense trees in the region on a list includes more than 200 species and varieties. The list provides valuable information on the growth and longevity of the area’s largest and best adapted trees. Observe the region’s incredible tree diversity by downloading the list.
  • iTree Findings: Trees provide valuable ecosystem services, from improving air quality through carbon sequestration to reducing stormwater flow and preventing erosion. The U.S. Forest Service conducted a study to assess the environmental value of trees in the Kansas City region in 2010. iTree models created from the study are used to enhance human health and environmental quality in urban and rural areas. Findings from the study are highlighted along with the full report and other information on