Spring is the perfect season to experience some of the showiest trees in the Garden’s living collection. The return of warmer weather brings with it waves of color from a variety of flowering trees. From March through May, it’s worth several return trips to see these stunning plants in full bloom.
There are about 100 species in the genus Magnolia, in addition to numerous hybrids and cultivars. Among the earliest variety to bloom each spring is the saucer magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana). Its fragrant pink and white flowers typically bloom in late March to mid-April. Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is another early spring bloomer, sporting star-shaped white flowers with narrow petals. You can catch a second wave of magnolia blooms in late spring thanks to sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) and southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).
Members of the genus Prunus are another show-stopper when it comes to flowering trees. The group includes peaches, plums, almonds and cherries. The Garden’s cherry blossom season lasts about a month, highlighted by dozens of Yoshino cherries (Prunus × yedoensis) at the entrance to the Japanese Garden. The tightly-packed brilliant white flowers are a visitor favorite, and the timing of peak bloom is a frequent question for our horticulture staff beginning in late March. Read more about our flowering cherries.
One of the best spring photo-ops in the Garden is the Crabapple Allé in full bloom. Crabapples are part of the genus Malus, which also includes the domestic apple you find in grocery stores. Crabapples aren’t typically grown for their fruit, but many cultivars are sought after for their brilliant floral display. ‘Cardinal‘ and its bright pink flowers is the variety found along the Crabapple Allé. Other notable collections of crabapple can be found surrounding the Gladney Rose Garden, the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, and the Japanese Garden.
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is unique on this list, because the showy part of its bloom isn’t a flower at all. The colorful display is actually a modified leaf, called a bract, and the flowers are the small yellow clusters in the center of each bract. This Missouri-native tree blooms in April, and depending on the variety bracts can be white, pink, or red. An Asian relative, Cornus kousa, blooms in May. The English Woodland Garden and Japanese Garden are the best places to spot the flowering dogwoods. Read more about our flowering dogwoods.
A Missouri-native, Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is easy to spot all across the St. Louis area in April. The small but bright pink flowers bloom directly from the trunk and branches, a habit botanically known as cauliflorous. The Garden has over 130 redbuds, including several cultivars, and a species native to China, Cercis chinensis. Shaw Nature Reserve is another great place to see blooming redbuds in the spring, with pockets of pink dotting the woodland landscape.
The trees listed above share a number of similarities that make them so striking. They are generally smaller specimens with dense clusters of bright, showy flowers. But there is another flowering tree worth mentioning here—the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipfera). This towering Missouri-native tree can be found throughout the St. Louis area. It gets its common name from the cup-shaped, tulip-like flowers that typically bloom in May. Those flowers can sometimes go unnoticed because they appear after the leaves are fully developed.
Cassidy Moody – Digital Media Specialist