Golden Rain Tree
5:44 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

Why That Free Tree Might Not Be Such A Gift

When you join the Arbor Day Foundation, you get 10 free trees as a gift.

Some local conservationists want the foundation to rethink the offerings for St. Louis.

The foundation picks the trees based on what grows best in the climate, while avoiding invasive species. But two years ago, horticulturist Besa Schweitzer noticed that one package included golden rain tree. And that had her puzzled.

She'd been at a conference several years before where colleagues from the Missouri Department of Conservation had mentioned they were concerned about a species of golden rain tree called Koelreuteria paniculata​. 

"It was pretty  low on the list of invasives, but they were saying it was a species they were watching," she said. She had one in her back yard, and had noticed she was constantly pulling out little seedlings.

Schweitzer sent a letter to the Arbor Day Foundation, which never responded. This year, when she saw golden rain tree among the selections again, she went to Facebook. By now, both the MDC and the Missouri Botanical Garden were advising against planting golden rain tree.

"When [the foundation] has such a big audience, it bothers me that they're giving away these trees that could be invasive in Missouri," Schweizter says. "What I would really like is if they would distribute native trees. The native trees are meant to be in Missouri and they grow well here."

The Arbor Day Foundation responded, saying it would talk to the MDC - which they did. But spokesman Sean Barry says there's no immediate plan to stop offering golden rain tree.

"There’s no government agency that has declared the species we offer as invasive, but of course we’re going to defer to people’s judgment about what they want to order," Barry said. "We don’t force any trees on anybody."

But, he added, the judgments can be made on a case-by-case basis, so there's nothing to prevent the foundation from changing its mind in the future.