Along with being a cemetery, Bellefontaine is also an accredited Level II arboretum and included in the Morton Register of Arboreta. The many trees and shrubs on the property have been a focus from the beginning and the number has grown to include over 4,000 trees, with well over 100 different species. The mission of the Arboretum at Bellefontaine Cemetery is to support and enhance the cemetery as place of perpetual commemoration, as a garden landscape of beauty, inspiration and historic significance. Bellefontaine is an accessible and diverse horticultural collection and is an important natural sanctuary and habitat for wildlife in the urban environment.
Until the mid-twentieth century, Bellefontaine Cemetery was home to a greater variety of plants and trees than the Missouri Botanical Garden. Today, our 1,100 shrubs and over 4,000 trees represent over 180 species.
Bellefontaine’s grounds are home to an international variety of meticulously cared-for trees and shrubs, providing a changing landscape in every season. The Paperback Maple, a native of China, has cinnamon-colored bark that peels artfully from its trunk. The Cucumber Magnolia, notable for its fruit instead of its flowers, is endangered on some parts of North America.
Evidence of times past, the remains of a stand of Osage Orange, once used as a windbreak on countless miles of American fence line, still thrives at Bellefontaine. A Shingle Oak listed as a contender for largest in the state reminds us of the days when early Midwestern settlers relied on it for roof shingles. The Golden Rain Tree was brought to America by Thomas Jefferson himself, and boasts seed pods reminiscent of paper lanterns.
Among other contenders for state honors, along the banks of Cascade Lake stands one of the largest Sugarberry trees in Missouri, while the current State Champion American Elm, with a circumference of 15 feet 11 inches, a height of 102 feet, and a crown spread of 122 feet, shades the James S. McDonnell lot.
Though Bellefontaine was founded as St. Louis’s first rural cemetery, today it is surrounded by a bustling neighborhood. Nonetheless, the arboretum remains a tranquil haven for local wildlife, including red fox, red tail hawk, wild turkeys, wood ducks and ducklings, and many migratory birds. Because of its location near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, Bellefontaine is on the flyway for water fowl, and we continue to explore new ways to provide cover and habitat for these important species.
Please visit our office for a complementary Arboretum Tour guide that highlights a number of our wonderful trees.