Although the mighty Custer Elm and Post Office Oak of Kansas' Council Groves are no more, the American Midwest's Sunflower State still grows some truly spectacular trees. Biggest of all, according to the Kansas Forest Service, is a 96-foot-high Eastern cottonwood spreading 127 feet over the tiny north central town of Studley. The Kansas Forest Service has also measured another 160 species of trees that inhabit Kansas.
Although one Leavenworth County, Kansas black cherry tree currently stands 101 feet high, most of these members of the rose family grow 50 to 60 feet. Their glossy green leaves--yellow in autumn--and drooping clusters of fragrant April to June flowers make them attractive ornamental trees. Cherries, red when young, become black as they mature in August and September.
Black cherries are edible raw or used in preserves, pies and wine. The bark has been an ingredient in wild cherry cough syrup. Trees do well in sun or shade and well-drained locations. They tolerate moist or dry pH-neutral soil of any type. Their wilted leaves, twigs and seeds are toxic.
A black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) in the northeastern Kansas town of Hiawatha stands 81 feet tall with a spread of 74 feet. More typical, says the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, are heights of 50 to 60 feet. A member of the pea family, black locust has spiny branches and lacy blue-green leaves.
Trees produce drooping clusters of creamy white flowers in April and May. Their fragrance attracts nectar-loving hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Flat 5 " seedpods follow the flowers. Trees do best in sunny spots with pH-neutral soil. They are, however, vigorous growers even in poor soil. Because it spreads rapidly, black locust is useful for land reclamation. Trees may be too invasive for smaller landscaping projects.
Although the Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) bears the name of a state well to Kansas' east, Kansas has produced some respectable Ohio buckeyes of its won. The Kansas Forest Service reports a 50-foot Ohio buckeye with a 46-foot spread in the town of Leavenworth. These members of the horse chestnut family are valued for their brilliant orange autumn foliage. Their curving branches also produce upright yellow and green flower clusters in May. The buckeyes themselves are dark brown nuts with striking lighter brown centers.
Ohio buckeyes grow in both sun and shade, and do best in rich, sandy acidic soil. These are outstanding shade trees, so much so that you may have difficulty establishing grass beneath them. Plant the trees where their dropped flowers and nuts won't demand immediate cleanup. All parts of this tree, including the buckeyes, are toxic to people.