You can learn a lot about St. Louis simply by reading the signs. Street signs that is. The city’s unique mix of Native American, French, and German influences are prominently posted on street corners in neighborhoods north, south, and everywhere in between. There are streets named after wives, daughters, lawyers, landowners, famous places, cultural icons, even the brother of a president. And, there are more than 50 St. Louis streets named after plants.
The following is an exploration of plant-inspired streets around the city, relying on information contained in the St. Louis Streets Index. This detailed resource, compiled by the St. Louis Public Library, covers the history of nearly every street in the city—the who, what, when, where, and why.
“I started working in the History & Genealogy Department at Central Library in 1989, and we received street name questions on a very regular basis,” says Tom Pearson, who helped build the Street Index in 1994. “There was no consolidated source for street name information, so answering a street name question could involve consulting numerous sources. Creating the Street Index made answering those questions much easier for library staff and our customers.”
The entire list makes for an entertaining read, especially for local history buffs. To give you an idea, here’s the entry for Thurman Avenue:
THURMAN AVENUE (N-S). For Allen G. Thurman, the vice-presidential candidate with Grover Cleveland in 1888. The developers of Tyler Place named the street for Thurman to gain publicity during the Democratic National Convention held in St. Louis in 1888. The section of Thurman between Magnolia and Shenandoah served as a street car line from the 1890s. (Shaw)
Inspired by Plants
Plant-inspired street names can be found across St. Louis neighborhoods, from Baden in the north to Boulevard Heights in the south. In total, those 50-plus streets add up to more than 45 miles of botanically influenced blacktop.
Some street names were a nod to natural features and plants that once occupied areas now packed with homes, such as Glades Avenue and Elmbank Avenue. There are at least six city streets using some form of oak in their name. Other street names were born out of marketing tactics, like Archwood Lane and Northwoods Avenue. Still others were named seemingly just as a nod to beautiful blooms, such as Orchid, Camellia, and Lotus Avenues.
Use the map below to explore these streets for yourself, complete with the information from the St. Louis Streets Index. And keep reading below for a few of our favorites.
The Downtown Trees
In 1826, St. Louis officials decided all East-West oriented streets should be renamed from letters to trees. C Street became Olive and A Street turned into Chestnut. Among the other tree names to appear downtown on the 1875 Compton & Dry map of St. Louis are Almond, Myrtle, Elm, and Plum—streets that no longer exist today. Garden founder Henry Shaw owned several properties in the old St. Louis business district.
Compton, Richard J, and Camille N Dry. Pictorial St. Louis, the great metropolis of the Mississippi valley; a topographical survey drawn in perspective A.D. St. Louis, Compton & co, 1876. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/rc01001392/.
Poplar Street was largely overtaken by Interstate 64, although it lives on as the informal name for the Congressman William L. Clay Sr. Bridge. Also still around are Spruce, which leaps over Busch Stadium at the Stan Musial statue, along with Walnut, Pine, Olive, and Locust. If you look hard enough, you might even find tiny Linden Street tucked away on a short block just west of Tucker Boulevard.
Interestingly, you would be hard-pressed to find any actual pines along Pine, or olives on Olive, or a spruce on Spruce. These types of trees are either not native to our region, or can’t handle the added stresses of an urban environment like the downtown business district.
Chestnut Street runs past the Old Courthouse in Downtown St. Louis. Photo by Kristina Schall DeYong.
Prairies and Wine in North St. Louis
It may be hard to picture it now driving from Fairground Park across Interstate 70 toward the industrial area along Hall Street, but this part of town was once covered in lush prairie. The former landscape is denoted by East Prairie Avenue, along with other nearby streets such as Green Lea Place, Grove Street, and Red Bud Avenue.
A remnant of the original prairie covering that area has managed to survive more than two centuries of change in St. Louis. You can see it just off West Florissant (a variation on the French word for flowering) Avenue, at Calvary Cemetery. Today, the Missouri Department of Conservation helps manage the prairie to keep it healthy, including the use of prescribed burns. Seed from the cemetery has been introduced to prairies at Shaw Nature Reserve and the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center, which in turn has been collected and used to re-seed the Calvary prairie.
A prescribed burn on the Calvary Cemetery prairie in January 2020. Photo courtesy of Doug Bauer from DJM Ecological Services.
Further north, in the Baden neighborhood, you’ll find an intersection of residential streets that reveals another bit of St. Louis’ plant history. Concord Place and Grape Avenue intersect at what was once a vineyard near the banks of the Mississippi River. Around the time these streets were named, Missouri was one of the two largest wine-producing states in the nation.
Evidence of that history lives on in the herbarium of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Dr. George Engelmann, St. Louis physician and friend of Garden founder Henry Shaw, had a particular interest in studying grapes. His collection of grape plants in the Garden Herbarium features specimens collected all over the St. Louis region, including some from what is today the Near North Riverfront and Glasgow Village.
Left: A Vitus (grape) specimen collected by Dr. George Engelmann on the North Riverfront. Image via Tropicos®.
Right: The intersection of Grape Ave. and Concord Place in the Baden neighborhood of North St. Louis. Photo by Kristina Schall DeYong.
Our Botanical Neighbors
We would be remiss not to mention some of the botanically influenced streets outside the Garden’s own front door. After all, a grove of sassafras trees inspired Shaw to choose the location of his country home and later the Botanical Garden. Those trees and his home combine for the Tower Grove moniker shared by neighborhoods, a world-class public park, and the street along the Garden’s eastern border, Tower Grove Avenue.
Tower Grove Ave. and Flora Place intersect at the original entrance to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Photo by Cassidy Moody.
One of the first residential streets developed around the Garden, and leading straight to the original front entrance, was dubbed Flora (Latin for flower) Place by Henry Shaw, who owned much of the adjoining land at the time. He also gave the name Magnolia Avenue to the street that now serves as the border between the Garden and Tower Grove Park. A drive along that road in spring will reveal the tree that inspired the name is still well represented today.
Finding Flora in Your Neighborhood
We focused on just a small sampling of streets in the city of St. Louis, but plants inspire place names almost everywhere. For instance, Chestnut and Elm Streets can be found in cities throughout the country, a reminder of two once-prevalent American trees. And there are at least five towns named after the pawpaw, an underappreciated native fruit tree.
Look around your own neighborhood. Are there streets, parks, or other places named after plants? Does Maple Street have any actual maples growing alongside it? What other natural features define the area where you live?
Cassidy Moody — Senior Digital Media Specialist