Identification of Trees

As Gabriel Popkin explains in his article published in The New York Times, we have become habituated to describe vegetation as one uniform feature of our world, however when one looks closer you realize there is great diversity in plants throughout our environment (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/26/opinion/sunday/cure-yourself-of-tree-blindness.html).

Tree blindness, however, can be cured by noting trees and plants we may pass by everyday without even realizing it. Don’t be afraid to stop and investigate plants in our immediate environment. You may be surprised by the immense variations and intricate details that plants show off everyday. Each plant may have surprisingly interesting life history or even benefits to humans we may not have realized. In this introduction to the wonderful world of trees, we will identify some trees found throughout Ohio and what makes them so special and unique.

First, let’s take a look at a common tree found across Ohio, this is the American hackberry, Celtis occidentalis. The bark of the American hackberry tree looks like it has warty goosebumps and can be a great distinguishing feature. Additionally, the leaf arrangement is alternate, leaf complexity is simple, and the leaf margin is serrated. The surface of the American hackberry leaves are scratchy when rubbed between your fingers.

This specimen was found along the edge of a hardwood forest in Columbus, Ohio near the Ohio State University Don Scott Airport. According to the Peterson “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide, the fruit of the American hackberry, sometimes referred to as “sugarberries” serve as a source of food to a variety of birds.

Another Ohio Tree that provides a staple food source for wildlife is the Chinkapin oak, Quercus muehlenbergii. The leaves of the Chinkapin oak are quite distinctive due to their glossy coating and symmetrical shape. The leaf arrangement is alternate, leaf complexity is simple, and leaf margin is lobed. This Chinkapin oak was found along the edge of a mowed field and a hardwood forest near the Ohio State Don Scott Airport.

Unlike many species of white oaks, which would develop yellow leaves and not survive under alkaline soils (high pH), the Chinquapin is actually tolerant of many different soil conditions especially alkaline soils (University of Kentucky Department of Horticulture, https://www.uky.edu/hort/Chinkapin-Oak#:~:text=It%20is%20tolerant%20of%20alkaline, soil%20can%20kill%20an%20oak.). This makes Chinquapin oaks particularly sought after for planting native trees of Ohio in areas of poorer soil conditions.

 

A native Ohio tree with a unique leaf arrangement and surprisingly large leaves is the Common catalpa, Catalpa bignonioides. The leaf arrangement can be found in opposite or in whorled arrangement. The leaf complexity is simple and leaf margin is entire. The Common catalpa is distinguished by its large heart-shaped leaves and long, skinny, bean-shaped fruit.

According to United States Forest Service, the Common catalpa is known to attract “catalpa worms,” which are caterpillars that are commonly used as fish bait (http://hort.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/tree_fact_sheets/catsppa.pdf). Even when these catalpa worms defoliate the tree, there seems to be limited adverse affects to the tree itself.

Next up on my tree expedition, I found a Silver maple, Acer saccharinum. The maple trees are a select group that have an opposite leaf arrangement. Additionally, the Silver maple has a simple leaf complexity and a lobed leaf margin. The Silver maple can be distinguished by its 5-lobed leaves with jagged incuts and the underside of the leaf showing a surprisingly pale color. This Silver maple was found deep in a maple/beech dominated forest in Northwest Columbus, near the Ohio State Don Scott Airport.

Although many species of maple trees are known for producing sweet sap that may be harvested, Silver maples produce a  toxic alkaloid gramine in their leaves (Pace University Horticulture, http://webpage.pace.edu/naturespace/Silver%20Maple.htm).

Unlike its sweet inviting name, the Honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, has thorns several inches long. The Honey locust can be identified by its small leaflets, gnarly thorns, and large seed pods. The leaf arrangement is alternate, leaf complexity is pinnately compound, and the leaf margin is entire. This Honey locust was observed along the edge of brush that was growing along a fence line near the Ohio State Don Scott Airport.

Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide notes that these large thorns have been used for pins, spearpoints, and animal traps.

 

A delightful wild fruit consumed by both wildlife and humans summer is produced by the Red mulberry, Morus rubra. The Red mulberry can be distinguished by its red and black berries it produces and unusually shaped leaves. The leaves of the Red mulberry may take many forms and can differ in shape even on the same branch of the same tree. The leaf arrangement is alternate, the leaf complexity is simple, and the leaf margin is serrate. This Red mulberry tree was discovered along a fence line growing beside thick brush near the Ohio State University Don Scott Airport.

According to Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide, the Red Mulberry was introduced to the United States by the British in an unsuccessful attempt to cultivate silk from the worms sometimes found on the branches.

One of the most beautiful trees to bloom in Ohio would certainly be the Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, known for its vibrant pink blooms. The eastern redbud can be identified by its seedpods and symmetrical, circular, heart-shaped leaves.

As noted in Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide, these leaves are often consumed in salads and can be a great way to enjoy nature’s bounty. As explained in The New York Times article by Gabriel Popkin, I am always surprised to discover the multitude of plants found right here in Ohio that can be consumed and enjoyed on the dinner table (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/26/opinion/sunday/cure-yourself-of-tree-blindness.html).

 

Finally, I end this post with a popular native Ohio tree that is enjoyed by many people in all kinds of dishes and the wood used for many building projects, is the Black walnut, Juglans nigra. The fruit of the Black walnut has a fruiting body surrounding the delicious seed inside, which many may overlook in their outdoor adventures. The Black walnut can be identified by these green fruits the size of a tennis ball. Additionally, the leaf arrangement of the Black walnut is alternate, leaf complexity is pinnately compound, and leaf margins are serrate. The Black walnut leaves contain many narrow leaflets that extend outward from the midrib. This Black Walnut was observed towering above dense brush near the Ohio State University Don Scott Airport.

The fruit of the Black walnut was once crushed and used to kill fish for food, but is now considered illegal (Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide).

This outdoor adventure into tree identification can be performed by anyone with tree identification resources and a drive to learn more. Tree blindness can be cured by taking small steps to observe the world around you and initiate self-discovery.