In preparation for my site visit in a few days, I have been researching St Louis’ urban flora. Inspired by Del Tredici’s Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast, here are some facts, history, and positive attributes of some of the species it’s been suggested I might find at Pruitt-Igoe.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)
Large vase-shaped ornamental shrub, up to 15’ tall and 15’ wide. Tolerates full-sun to deep shade; poor soils, soil compaction, various pHs, drought, heat, salt spray, heavy pruning. Used for erosion control. Introduced as ornamental – scented white flowers in May and June; red berries “ornamentally effective” against persistent green leaves in autumn (Oct-Nov). One of the first plants to leaf out in spring, and last to lose its leaves in fall. Red berries provide food for animals (plant spread by birds). Tea from flowers used for medicinal purposes in Asia.
Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
Broadleaf semi-evergreen to evergreen ornamental shrub (many cultivars have variegated leaves). Ornamental cultivars range from upright shrub to spreading procumbent groundcover. Tolerates full sun to partial shade; various pHs, soil compaction, heat, drought, and pollution – “urban tolerant”. Often used for foundations, edgings or group plantings. Seed is dehiscent capsule. Flowers inconspicuous.
Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila)
Tree up to 80’ tall, with stiffer, more upright habit than American Elm. Requires full sun. Tolerant of dry, poor soils and long periods of drought. Susceptibility to Dutch Elm Disease variable. Sheds twigs and branches easily in wind. First planted in US as a windbreak (control erosion, protect homes from wind and sun) and hardy street tree. Inner bark used as thickening agent in soups, breads. Wood used for agricultural implements and ships.
Tree of Heaven, Ghetto Palm (Ailanthus altissima)
Tree up to 70’ tall with a suckering, thicket-forming habit. Flowers and leaves have unpleasant smell. Grows well in dry, rocky soil – in China, often found in limestone-rich areas. Tolerant of heat, drought, air pollution, range of pH values and road salt. Short lived (max lifespan about 50 years). Introduced as an ornamental (chinoiserie); used as street tree in cities. Used to revegetate areas where acid mine drainage has occurred, and for slope stabilization. Bark and leaves used in traditional Chinese medicine. Host to silk worms of Samia cynthia – silk is stronger and cheaper than mulberry, but cannot be dyed. Wood used for cabinetry, food steamers, if dried properly can be used for lumber. Several ornamental cultivars exist in China; none in US.
White Mulberry (Morus alba)
Tree 30’-60’ tall. Yellow fall color. Tolerant of drought, compacted soils and road salt; used for erosion control. Berries provide food for wildlife. In China, used in silk production (host for silkworms), fruit is eaten raw, and medicinal tea is made from fallen leaves. Introduced to US with hope of starting silk industry. Wood used for sporting goods (springy).
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
Tree 40’ – 80’ tall. Yellow fall color, early. North American native. Tolerates urban conditions. Widely used as an ornamental and street tree.