Breaking: Big, Leafy Giants Hidden in Plain Sight!
How our tree neighbors have become invisible, and how we can cure our “tree blindness”.
Oh, hey! How nice of you to join us. Did that title grab your attention? I certainly hope so, because today we will be closely observing some of our most overlooked (but extremely special) plant friends, the trees!
Now, it may come as a surprise to think about just how often our towering neighbors go unseen, blending into the overall landscape. However, it is a habit that most people fall prey to, me included! This phenomenon occurs so often that it has been given a name: “tree blindness”. In his opinion article published in The New York Times, Gabriel Popkin describes how knowledge about trees, historically essential for survival, has now diminished to the point where all trees have become identical big leafy giants to many modern people. He recounted his experience of learning to differentiate between trees and appreciate them as individuals.
(article linked here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/26/opinion/sunday/cure-yourself-of-tree-blindness.html)
So, how does one go about fixing their “tree blindness”? Luckily, “tree blindness” can easily be cured by heading out to identify and admire the trees that surround us.
To begin our tree exploration today, let us head out to a local park, North Park, located in Springboro, OH. Since it is mid-May, all our tree friends have full leaves, and some are even in bloom! Time to risk poison ivy and spider webs to start our trek into the woods…
Ohio’s tree, the beautiful Buckeye!
For the first stop on our journey, we have a Yellow Buckeye tree, or Aesculus flava! This tree has small, bright yellow flowers that grow in branching clusters (called panicles). Its leaves are oblong, with serrated margins and deep veins, arranged oppositely with a palmate complexity. We ended up running into this tree several times, both on the outskirts of the forest and within in brightly lit areas. It was even found growing along the banks of a small stream! Interestingly, this tree is only found in southern Ohio and is the ‘sweeter’ version of the two Buckeye species in the state; its relative has stinky-smelling branches and spiny fruit. A fun fact about the Buckeye is that it got its name based on the appearance of its seeds. Each seed has a dark brown spherical casing with a single circular spot of light beige. Explorers thought it resembled the eye of a buck (a male deer), so it was christened the “buck-eye” tree!
(fact linked here: https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Ohio%27s_State_Tree_-_Buckeye)
Maple, the tree of Canada, eh?
Next up, we encountered a lovely immature Maple tree. It belongs to the genus, Acer or Sapindaceae, which hints at the hard Maple’s thick sap from which Maple syrup can be made! These trees were growing all throughout the forest, but they seemed to avoid being near the stream. There are two types of Maple trees, a soft and a hard variety, which are easily distinguished by the shapes of their leaves. On the tree that we found, the leaves had entire lobed margins and were arranged oppositely, with a simple complexity. Because the leaves did not have a serrated margin, it is likely that this Maple is a hard sugar Maple, one that could produce sap once old enough. An interesting tidbit about the Maple tree is that it can live for more than 200 years, far longer than any of us will last!
(fact linked here: http://www.sugarbushhill.com/all-about-maple/interesting-facts-about-maple-trees/)
The weirdos of the forest, Oak trees.
Ahh, Oak trees. Tall, beautiful, and unique! Belonging to the genus, Quercus, Oak trees were found towering high all over the interior of the forest and along the outskirts and stream bed. The two types of Oak trees are White Oaks and Red Oaks. White Oaks have blunted lobed leaves and produce mature acorns after one year of flowering, while Red Oaks have bristle-tipped lobed leaves and produce mature acorns after two years of flowering. Acorns, a nuisance for anyone who is walking along barefooted, are a feature only common to Oak trees. Amazingly, one Oak tree can produce 2,000 acorns per year! I wonder who had to sit around and collect and count all those acorns… Additionally, Oaks tend to produce galls more than any other type of tree in response to attacks by insects or fungi. Taking a closer look at the Oak that we encountered, it seems to have bristle-tipped lobed leaves that are arranged alternately with a simple complexity, indicating that is probably a Red Oak tree.
(fact linked here: https://www.tentree.com/blogs/posts/10-interesting-facts-about-the-oak-tree)
Hickory trees, the producers of the tasty pecan nut.
The fourth tree that we came across on our stroll through the woods was this immature Hickory tree. Found in the genus, Carya, Hickory trees were growing sparsely throughout the forest, which made this little guy a great surprise! Although the specimen that we observed was young, Hickory trees have heavy, strong wood that withstands impacts, making them good candidates for tool handles. They also produce pecans, one of my favorite types of nuts! Hickories have long leaves with serrated margins that are arranged alternately with a pinnately compound complexity. If you are a carnivore, the Hickory tree is an excellent choice for smoking meats!
(fact linked here: https://www.hunker.com/13429165/facts-about-the-hickory-tree)
Co-creators of silk, Mulberry trees!
Our next stop was at this tall Mulberry tree that was located on the edge of a small drop-off to the stream below. In the genus, Morus, Mulberry trees are best known for their tasty berries that come in three varieties: red, white, and black. This tree was special as it was the only one we saw while wandering through the woods. Its leaves had a serrated margin with an alternate arrangement and a simple complexity. White Mulberry leaves are the primary food source for silkworms, so in a way, they are co-creators of the expensive fabric!
(fact linked here: https://www.gardenguides.com/92717-mulberry-tree.html)
The Pawpaw tree, an Ohio celebrity.
At our sixth stop in the forest, we found an immature Pawpaw tree that was covered in buds. There was a small collection of about six immature Pawpaws close to the stream, all blooming. The scientific name for Pawpaws is Asimina triloba, and they are known for the large edible fruits that they produce, called Pawpaws. People enjoy Pawpaw fruit so much that they hold a festival in the trees’ honor every year. Pawpaw trees have oblong leaves with entire edges and are arranged alternately with a pinnate complexity. They also produce beautiful, large dark red flowers!
(fact linked here: https://www.lewisginter.org/pawpaws/)
The super-shady Elm tree.
Next up is an Elm tree, with especially beautiful, deeply grooved bark. There were not many Elms in the woods, and this one along with two others were the only ones growing along the outskirts. This is likely due to the Elm population being decimated by Dutch Elm disease and other pests. Elms belong to the genus Ulmus, and this tree had oblong leaves with serrated margins that were arranged alternately with pinnate complexity. Elm trees used to be the preferred shade tree due to their dense canopies, but sadly have disappeared over time.
(fact linked here: http://www.museum.state.il.us/muslink/forest/htmls/trees/U-americana.html)
The tree with all the bark but no bite, the Birch!
To conclude our little tree adventure, we have the lovely Birch tree. It is one of the most easily identifiable trees due to its unique bark. Belonging to the genus Betula, Birch trees have leaves with serrated margins that are arranged alternately with simple complexity. A fun fact about the Birch tree is that its foliage provides food for many different woodland animals, including moose and porcupines!
(fact linked here: https://www.gardenguides.com/13428819-interesting-facts-about-birch-trees.html)
Now that we have reached the end of our tree exploration trip, I hope that all readers will feel inspired to boldly set out on their own to appreciate the trees around them. Our tree friends come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors, and deserve to be recognized as the individuals that they are. If you have enjoyed our experience together so far, please continue to tag along as we delve into more of the plants that Ohio has to offer. Stay tuned!