It is time to identify the plants that grow around us, specifically the big ones with big leaves that we collectively refer to lovingly as trees.
It seems now more than ever with recent pandemic events, we should pay close attention to the natural world that we humans are a part of. Our existence is reliant on the trees and plants that we continually take advantage of and find new uses for.
An opinion piece by Gabriel Popkin, posted by The New York Times, defines a term for the widespread phenomenon called “tree blindness:” the failure to identify trees as truly living and unique organisms, and instead as one simple mass resource.
I find this to be a true problem in a world with a population that seems to increasingly care less and less for their fellow man, let alone for a tree that many can easily regard as inanimate.
There can be a cure or at least a remedy of sorts for all sorts of problems. The last things anyone should do is remain ignorant on a legitimate problem.
Now it is time:
As I hiked near Firestone Metro Park in Akron, Ohio and Prairie Oaks Metro Park in Columbus, Ohio, I discovered a variety of trees, but some were certainly more plentiful than the others.
With my first photographed tree, I discovered the Large Leaved American Lime Tree, the Tilia americana. I found this particular specimen off the Coneflower Trail in the Prairie Oaks Metro Park. Surprisingly enough, it does not actually produce limes and is not closely related to the species that do produce the lime fruit.
The leaves are ovoid and simple with serrated margins and an alternating pattern. They are also known for their iconic asymmetrical base, and grow in woodland areas and is very tolerant to sandy soil. According to “Missouri Botanical Garden” website <http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a917> although the tree does not produce lime fruit and the name is a derivation from the Swedish lexicon “linden,” the wood from the tree is lightweight and is commonly used for furniture, shipping crates and boxes.
During my expeditions, I found a large number of Maple trees and Ash trees. Coincidentally enough, I found a particular tree that can be confused as one but is actually the other!
The Boxelder Maple, often referred to as the “ash-leaved” maple, Acer negundo, is the only maple with compound leaves. The leaves as seen in the photograph from Prairie Oaks Park are composed of three leaflets that are arranged in pairs opposite each other. The leaflets are ovoid with smooth margins that have three lobes. The tree naturally thrives in low-land wet environments such as nearby a swamp.
The tree is not exactly Prince Charming. According to ThoughtCo. <https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-the-boxelder-tree-1343340> Boxelder Maple trees are prone to constant breaking limbs, drooping brown “trashy” fruit, and home to the foul odored “Boxelder bug.” This is generally an “unattractive tree,” but that seems a little rude.
Ahh, a personal favorite and a particular tree that has naturally been around my family’s house for more years than i can remember. The Flowering Dogwood tree, in this case Cornus florida, is flowering faster than the leaves can bud. The leaves are opposite and simple, they are also ovoid with smooth, wavy margins.
The Flowering Dogwood is known as an under-story tree that usually finds it’s home at the edge of woodland areas away from swamps. The Peterson “Fields and Shrubs” Field Guide notes the effective use of the tree bark for red dyes.
Using the knowledge of my family, the fruits produced by the Flowering Dogwood are a favorite of many birds and often attracts wrens.
A Columbus favorite, and arguably the most common tree spotted in Prairie Oaks Metro Park, the Ohio Buckeye, Aesculus glabra. This young one was surrounded by several of its kin with opposite palmate compound leaves with five leaflets that are ovoid and serrated/toothed. The tree prefers alkaline rich soil, and remains an under-story tree.
The Ohio Buckeye is so common in the Columbus area that I thought it would be wrong to not include a specimen in my discoveries. Famous for a variety of mascot and chocolate reasons, and according to Arbor Day Foundation <https://www.arborday.org/programs/nationaltree/buckeye.cfm> the Ohio Buckeye tree and seed was also rumored to be of good fortune. Pioneering farm families believed the seeds were natural healers of rheumatism and minor ailments. The wood was commonly used to make artificial limbs.
What are you doing here? Honestly?
This tree took me a significant amount of time to identify. I recognized the leaves as simple and whorled with smooth margins and circular to ovoid shape as similar to fruit trees. However, I was surprised to realize that this Bradford Pear tree, Pyrus calleryana, is an invasive species that is thriving in North American woodland.
Seen in both Firestone Metro Park and Prairie Oak Metro Park, this photograph came from the latter and was quite recurrent on the Coneflower Trail. According to “Missouri Botanican Garden,” <http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c136> the tree is native to China and Taiwan, and was commercially planted across North America as an ornamental tree. It now makes its home in the wild and across state parks.
Another very common tree in Prairie Oaks Metro Park was literally growing in the middle of the walking path. Talk about asserting dominance.
This particular specimen appears to be an American elm, Ulmus americana, with thicker leaves that are simple, entire, alternating, and ovoid with serrated margins. This tree survives in both wet and dry environments, but thrives in medium moisture.
According to an Illinois website, <https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/am_elm.html> the tree is a fallen icon of America. The wood was used commonly in hockey sticks and flooring since it is heavy, hard, and strong. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to warp.
Unfortunately, another favorite of mine was a little late to bud leaves and regardless, was quite frankly, too tall to even attempt to find leaf examples in Prairie Oaks. The leaves however are simple and toothed with three to five lobes. They are similar in appearance to maple leaves.
However, the bark and size of the tree alone can distinguish this particular specimen as the American Sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis. The tree bark is known to have a patchy and mottled appearance even when fully healthy, and the trunk is often known to be the largest in diameter of any other eastern hardwood in the United States.
With their aggressive roots, they are often the largest problem to sidewalk construction in urban areas. Theses trees enjoy moist woodlands, and due to the coarse grain of the wood, it has been treated commonly used for butcher’s blocks.
Another discovery close to the entrance of Firestone Metro Park, the Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipfera. The leaves on the tree are simple and alternating with smooth margins and four iconic lobes that give them the appearance of a tulip, or what some interpret as a cat face.
The tree thrives in a moist woodland environment, and being one of the largest broad-leafed trees in North America, there are many uses for it’s leaves and wood. According to Arbor Day Foundation, <https://www.arborday.org/programs/nationalTree/tuliptree.cfm> the leaves were often used in ointments, teas, and medicinal solutions, while the tree wood was often used for canoes.
A perfect place to end our tree identification exercise. The simple, plentiful, and beautiful Red Maple tree, Acer rubrum. The leeaves are simple and opposite with commonly three lobes but can have five. The margins are serrated, and the color is of course green through the Summer, but are usually bright red in the Autumn.
The tree is found in Firestone Metro Park and Prairie Oaks Metro Park as well as my own backyard. It is plentiful but greatly appreciated for the life and beauty it provides to many yards, and it is one of the most commonly planted and cultivated in yards. It can grow near wetlands and dry ground. It is versatile and effective for shade and color.
A simple tree with simple facts and reasons to appreciate. I recommend this particular tree as a prime example to “cure” “tree-blindness.”