1. Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar trees get their name from the color of their heartwood—a reddish brown color often mixed with a light-colored sapwood.  On the outside, they are distinguished by their evergreen leaves and small, light blue berries.  These berries are a great source of food for many birds and even mammals; Cedar Waxwing birds love them.  The seeds are easily distributed by droppings from the animals that eat the berries and grow readily in most Kansas soils.  Thus, fields, yards, and open areas will often have Eastern Red Cedar sprouts that will continue to grow if not mowed.  The trees have a typical lifespan of 150 years, although some live much longer, up to over 900 years. 

Eastern Red Cedar is a native tree to Kansas, but was not as common long

ago when their numbers were held low by prairie fires.  Their low branches,

while great for protecting wildlife, easily let grass fire climb the height of the

tree.  It doesn’t help that the tree is highly combustible compared to other trees.

Without frequent range burning, Eastern Red Cedars will take over an

non-grazed, unattended field (this is seen in fields north of Bel Aire). 

While rather bushy trees, their center trunk grows straight and makes for a

good piece of wood for many things like fence posts and furniture.  Another

benefit of the wood is its resistance to rot, its interesting color, and its smell

which also deters moths making it a desired wood for clothes chests. 

2. Osage orange

Osage orange, hedge, or hedge apple tree is a small tree or large shrub,

typically growing to 30–50 ft tall. The distinctive fruit is the bumpy ball that you

can find which turns bright yellow-green in the fall. The fruits secrete a sticky

white latex when cut or damaged. Despite the name, Osage orange it is only

distantly related to the orange. It is a member of the mulberry family. It has been

known by a variety of common names in addition to Osage orange, including

hedge apple, horse apple, monkey ball, monkey brains, yellow-wood and mock

orange. American settlers used the Osage orange as a hedge to prevent free-range

livestock from entering vegetable gardens and corn fields. Under severe pruning,

 an interwoven wall would form from the branches and create a dense barrier. The thorny Osage orange tree was extremely common throughout the United States until this usage was superseded by the invention of barbed wire in 1874.


3. Shumard's oak 

A mature shumard’s oak has a height of between 40-60 feet tall. The spread of the

branches is a similar 40-60 feet wide. This tree doesn’t have many requirements for

growth and can be found all across america. The main features of this tree are

the small acorns that measure about 1 inch on a fully grown tree, and long leaves

with spiked lobes that will turn a red orange color in the fall.


4. Tree of Heaven

The tree of heaven elm is a rapidly growing shade tree that tolerates all types of soil

and conditions including periods of drought and poor drainage. These non-strict requirements

make it popular in urban landscaping.  Its name refers to the tree's ability to grow towards

the sky very quickly.This elm matures at 40-60 feet tall. It's native to China where the tree’s

bark was used to treat diarrhea, asthma, gonorrhea and malaria. Immigrants brought seedlings

to the United States selling them as exotic fast growing shade trees, as shade trees

were very important in landscapes before air conditioned homes.This elm has fruit clusters in

June that release a strong offensive smell similar to rancid peanuts. These clusters change

from yellow-green to orange-red in fall, and are similar to the "helicopter" seeds we see on

maple trees. These seeds cause aggressive spreading, therefore the tree is under observation

and may be listed on invasive species list in the future.

5. Post oak

The post oak generally grows up to 60 feet tall but can reach 80. The trunk has a greyish to light

red-brown color. The leaves have rounded lobes placed on each side. Like most oaks this is an acorn

producing tree with the acorns usually being ¾ of an inch long to 1 ¼ inch. When buying lumber this tree's wood

will be marked as white oak and is commonly used for railroad ties and general canstruction.

6. Overflow Drain

This round rusted metal drain that you can find under the willow at the

end of the pond may seem simple but it serves a very important purpose

for the pond. During times of heavy rains and flooding, the pond can 

rise high enough to be able to cover the sidewalks, or it would if this

drain wasn’t here. If the water reaches high enough to spill over into the

drain it flows through the tunnel that runs under the road on the opposite

side of the sidewalk and into a little stream that lies at the end. This keeps

the water level from ever reaching a height that would threaten the houses

that surround the pond.


7. Peachleaf Willow

The Peachleaf willow gets its name from having leaves that resemble that

of a peach tree. The leaves are long, thin, and yellowish green in color with

a silver underside. The leaves shed every winter and develop again in the

spring along with tiny “fruit” capsules. This willow is common in the north

and central United States. It is a small to medium sized tree growing 13 to

66 ft tall; besides the cottonwood, it is the largest tree native to the prairie.

Trunks are singular or grow in clusters and can grow at an angle or even

parallel to the ground. The peachleaf willow needs very moist soil to thrive

so it is often found near a stream, pond, or area prone to flooding. 

8. Turtles

The red-eared slider is a semi aquatic turtle. It is a subspecies of the pond slider. It is the most popular pet turtle in the United States and is also popular as a pet across the rest of the world. Because of this, they are the most commonly traded turtle in the world. While red-eared sliders are native to the southern United States and northern Mexico, they have become established in other places because of pet releases, and have become an invasive species in many areas where they outcompete native species. The red-eared slider is included in the list of the world’s 100 most invasive species published by the IUCN.

The common snapping turtle is a large freshwater turtle. The common snapping turtle, as its name implies, is the most widespread of all of the type of snapping turtles. This turtle is noted for its combative disposition when out of the water; with its powerful beak-like jaws, and highly mobile head and neck. However, In water, they are likely to flee and hide themselves underwater in sediment. Lifespan in the wild is not accurately known, but long-term mark-recapture data from Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada, suggest a maximum age of over 100 years.

9. Purple Martin Houses

These houses that you see frequently in residential yards and around ponds are homes for Purple Martins.  This breed of bird relies mostly on man-made structures for breeding. In the 1980’s Purple Martin’s were at risk for extinction due to being run out of their nesting sites by more aggressive species of the house sparrow and European starling.  The Purple Martin is the largest swallow in North America and isn’t even purple, despite its name.  Their color is a black/blue sheen which can look purple in the right light.  They feast on insects by hawking, which is a process of catching bugs during flight.  Purple Martins fly very high so mosquitos do not make up a large part of their diet, despite popular opinion. This bird resides in the Amazon during the winter and migrates over land to North America between January and October.  They are typically seen in this region between March and August.  Each female has a single brood of 4-6 eggs per nest.  Their incubation period is 15-16 days and they tend to leave the nest about a month after hatching.

10. Mallard Duck

The scientific name of the mallard is (Anas platyrhynchos). Their average

life span is 5-10 years. The mallard is the most common and recognizable duck

you will find in Kansas and is considered to be a species of least concern by the

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Unlike many waterfowl,

mallards are considered an invasive species in some regions. The reason for this

is because it is a very adaptable species, being able to live and even thrive in urban

areas which many other waterfowl cannot do. Mallard ducks will usually form pairs

in October and November, and will stay in these pairs until the end of breeding season, which occurs in early March and extends into late May. An interesting trait of the female ducks is their tendency to breed near the place where they were hatched. During the mating season the female mallards may lay up to half their body weight in eggs.

11. Canada Goose

The large honking bird with a black and white head is rather unmistakable as a Canada Goose.  Some are full-time residents of the lakes and ponds around Bel Aire, Sedgwick County, and anywhere in the Midwest where there is a large body of water next to well-kept lawns or open fields.  In 1964, there were no reported sightings of Canada Geese in Sedgwick County. In 1984 there were 2200, and in 2004 there were 25,000.  Since then, annual numbers in Sedgwick County have fluctuated between 32,000 and 72,000.  They like it here! 

Canada Geese pair for life and travel in family or larger groups.  Families will raise four to eight young a year, and by two months the young are hard to tell from adults.  When feeding, one will stand guard while the others eat.  They can be somewhat aggressive and hiss at walkers on a sidewalk; it is best to give them some space when they are acting this way.  They are generally herbivores, eating grain left in harvested fields in the fall, wheat in the spring, and new sprouts or mowed grass whenever available.

Numbers increase greatly in the fall, when lakes and ponds in the northern states and Canada start to freeze over.  They are partial migrators, and will only fly south so much as to find a body of water that is not frozen over.  They continue this until spring, and then many head back north…but not all.  If vegetation is plentiful and calm water is available, many Canada Geese stay in Kansas and raise their families.


12. Squirrels

Squirrels are rodent mammals that feed mostly on nuts and seeds.

The two most common species of tree squirrels in Kansas are the

grey squirrel and the fox squirrel. Squirrels bury nuts and seeds in

the fall to prepare for winter when there is a lack of food. Failure to

retrieve their nuts before spring results in the nuts growing into trees. Most wild squirrels live for 5-10 years. Similar to

beavers and other rodents, squirrels’ teeth never stop growing. A squirrel can survive a fall of over 100 feet, and can jump up to 20 feet.

13. Eastern Cottonwood

 There are three types of cottonwood trees Eastern, Black and Fremont.

All go by many different names. Kansas has the eastern cottonwood tree.

The Kansas Legislature designated Cottonwood as the State Tree in 1937.

It is also the state tree of Wyoming and Nebraska. The cottonwood is named

for its cotton-like seeds which are only produced by the female cottonwood

tree. Many cottonwoods grow from 70 to 100 feet tall, and the tree’s quick

growth rate and adaptability to many soils and climates have made it an age-old

friend to the American people. Eastern cottonwoods typically live 70–100 years,

but they have the potential to live 200-400 years in ideal conditions.


14. Cat tails

There are about 30 different species of this perennial plant that frequently inhabits fresh or slightly salty water.  Cattails are currently considered an invasive species because they grow rapidly and crowd out other plant species.  Their identifying feature is a unisex flower on top of a spike, the male above the female, which has a brown, sponge-like appearance after its pollen is released. Once it is mature, the spike will disintegrate and release cottony seeds which will disperse in the wind. Cattails are helpful for stabilizing soil and minimizing erosion.  They are often dried and used for decoration. Native Americans also once used them for medicinal purposes to heal burns, cure kidney stones and treat whooping cough.