Ecosystems at the Arboretum

The Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens offers homeowners, landscapers and arborists an opportunity to view and evaluate a wide variety of trees and ecosystems, including rare plant species.  Plantings in the Arboretum are carefully selected for suitability to local soil and climate conditions, insect and disease resistance and overall low maintenance requirements.

Please click below to learn more about each type of ecosystem available to visit at the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.  Ecosystems change seasonally, so be sure to visit during all four seasons.  Maps are available online and in the visitor center.


Dry-Mesic Prairie

Much of the Arboretum was once prairie. Prairies occur in temperate climates (such as Kansas) with grasses, rather than trees, as the dominant vegetation type. A “mesic” prairie has good drainage and soil moisture during the growing season and therefore is more endangered, since it is most likely to be converted to agriculture. The north entrance to the Arboretum and the area surrounding Margaret's Pond represent a prairie ecosystem showing human disturbances such as grazing and probably cropping on the north edge of the site. Remnants of prairie can be seen, including Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem and Indian Grass.

Dry Oak-Hickory

The Dry Oak-Hickory forest is a typical ecosystem for this area, as well as for much of eastern and central North America. Post Oak, Black Oak and Shagbark Hickory, the dominant trees here, are examples of “deciduous” trees, meaning they lose their leaves in the fall and winter.  This ecosystem lies above the flood plains on the north side of Wolf Creek and on the upland areas south of the creek, where it grades into old field areas to the south. The oak-hickory forest is a typical ecosystem for this area and contains Post Oak, Black Oak and Shagbark Hickory as dominant species as well as rock out-croppings and rock layers at the surface. This area is showing signs of succession with many pioneer invading species.

Dry Oak Savanna
A “savanna” is an area of widely spaced trees surrounded by prairie. At the Arboretum, the Dry Oak Savanna lies near the picnic shelter and east end of the asphalt trail. This ecosystem can be thought of as a transition between the prairie and the forest above Wolf Creek.
Dry Wooded Swales
A “swale” is a low-lying area or depression. The Dry Wooded Swales area occurs to the west of the Arboretum gardens north of Wolf Creek and on the south side of Wolf Creek near the Wooded Draws.   The areas to the south show fewer signs of development and less diversity.
Mesic Oak-Hickory Forest

The Mesic Oak-Hickory ecosystem is found along the lower, south side of the Wolf Creek floodplain. Because it lies on a slope that faces north, it receives less sunlight and has cooler, moister soil that supports the largest trees in the Arboretum, such as Red Oak, Shagbark Hickory and White Ash, along with an abundance of spring wildflowers.  This ecosystem occurs in a narrow strip along Wolf Creek and is bounded on the north by the Wolf Creek floodplain and on the south by the limestone cliff. The deep, moist soils support the largest trees on the property, including Red Oak, Chinkapin Oak, Shagbark Hickory, White Ash, Black Walnut, Butternut, Hickory, Hackberry and Bur Oak. The presence of Paw Paw and Leatherwood shows some resemblance to the Ozark region. The rich soil supports an abundance of spring wildflowers. This is probably the most unique and fragile ecosystem on the site. Its deep, rocky draws are visible from the Bluff Trail.

Old Field
This ecosystem to the south of Wolf Creek is a former prairie used by humans for agriculture and grazing. A 10-year restoration project is underway to return this area to prairie.  This severely disturbed zone shows no remnant prairie species due to over grazing and cropping. It is in the early stages of old field succession with the invasion of pioneer species. Prior to human use, it probably resembled the Dry-Mesic prairie found on the northern portion of the Arboretum. Since 2002, volunteers have been working to return these 160 acres to its pre-settlement condition. The prairie is being managed by a three-year rotation of reseeding, haying and burning to simulate grazing by wildlife and buffalo and wildfire burning of the prairie
Riparian Woodland
This ecosystem lies in the floodplain created by Wolf Creek, which flows through the Arboretum. Floodplains are low areas next to streams and rivers that are created as the moving water erodes sideways or “meanders.” Flooding is evident and the soils are saturated at various times of the year. Typical tree species include Silver Maple, Black Willow, Honey Locust, Eastern Cottonwood, Elms, Sycamore, Bur Oak, Butternut Hickory, Green Ash, Hackberry, Black Walnut, Red Mulberry and Osage Orange.
Wooded Draws
A “draw” is a gully or drainage basin that carries water into a river or stream during periods of heavy rainfall or runoff. This ecosystem occurs south of Wolf Creek. These areas exist to the west of the main pond and around the site where two ponds previously existed south of Wolf Creek. Species include rough Leaf Dogwood, Red Elm, Red Cedar and Buck Brush as well as some prairie remnants such as Prickly Pear, Pale Purple Coneflower, Milkweed and various grasses. The areas to the south show less diversity, probably due to cropping and grazing. These areas are limited and can be considered the result of the invasion of woody species into what was grassland or pasture.

Visit Us

8909 W. 179th St.,
Overland Park, KS 66013
$5.00 Ages 18+
$2.00 Ages 6-17
Children ages 5 and under are free.

Always free for members of Friends of the Arboretum.

The Arboretum is open 7 days a week, all year long.

Summer Hours:
April 1 - August 31, the Arboretum will be open:
Early on Wednesdays, 7am-5pm
Late on Thursdays, 9am-8pm

The Arboretum will close at noon on Saturday, June 24.

Holiday Hours:
The Arboretum will be closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
New Year's Day will be open 9am - 2pm

Free Admission Days 2023 - First Tuesday of each month:
January 3
February 7
March 7
April 4
May 2
June 6
July 4
August 1
September 5
October 3
November 7
December 5

Monday 9am - 5pm
Tuesday 9am - 5pm
Wednesday 7am - 5pm
Thursday 9am - 8pm
Friday 9am - 5pm
Saturday 9am - 5pm
Sunday 9am - 5pm