Trees in Every Direction!

I thought that Gabriel Popkin’s article published in the New York Times that refers to the phrase “tree blindness” was very interesting and not necessarily something I’ve thought a lot about before. After having read it and been walking around campus the past few days though, his points have become more prominent to me and something I’m able to recognize. Trees play such a huge role within our ecosystem and impact our everyday lives in so many different ways. It’s honestly pretty incredible to think about and has really made me excited to learn more throughout this class.

Tree Identification

One of the best places to start in combating the phenomenon of tree blindness is knowing how to identify different species of trees using a variety of factors such as the leaf arrangement and complexity, the bark, and the buds. Personally, I think using the leaves is the easiest identification factor. However, when the weather turns cooler, the buds and bark can be extremely helpful when there aren’t any leaves to look at any more.

To start off, here is a scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) that I found along the Olentangy River Trail. Scarlet oaks have an alternate leaf arrangement and the individual leaves are simple but deeply lobed. According to Petrides “Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs” these leaves may also have small tufts of hair at the ends, which can be a helpful distinguishing factor from red oak leaves. Being close to the river, this specimen’s habitat consists of slightly acidic soils and can grow in a range of moisture levels, but prefers dry soils. The acorns produced by the scarlet oak are enjoyed by a wide range of animals from songbirds to grouse to white-tail deer and are stored more than white oak acorns due to higher levels of tannin.

You can easily tell how deep the lobes are on this scarlet oak

You can easily tell how deep the lobes are on this scarlet oak!

Another beautiful tree that I discovered on my walk along the Olentangy River was a star magnolia (Magnolia stellata). This organism is actually native to Japan and grows best in moist soils that have good drainage. They have simple leaves with an alternate arrangement and have beautiful white flowers that bloom right around March. Also, a star magnolia is generally smaller in size compared to other species of magnolia trees, which can help to distinguish it. There are over 200 species of magnolias and the flowers have a strong aroma that often smells citrusy, making it commonly used in different aromatherapies.

The star magnolia tree is not very tall but still has lots of various branches.

The leaves are alternately arranged and will eventually have beautiful white flowers in the spring!

This next tree was one of my favorite ones that I came across and it’s a weeping ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)! This fun tree has an alternate leaf arrangement with a simple complexity and lobed margin. This type of species is easily recognizable due to the unique fan shaped leaves that often turn yellow in autumn. In particular, a weeping ginkgo has branches that curve and weep a little bit more, hence its name! This species was also found along the Olentangy River Trail. This cues us into the fact that species of the Ginkgoaceae family generally prefer well drained loamy soils, but can also withstand pressures brought on by droughts. One interesting thing about ginkgo trees that I didn’t know was that sometimes it can take 20 years before a ginkgo tree grows any fruit.

You can see here how the branches droop a little bit more that other trees.

Look at the fun shape of these leaves!

Another gorgeous tree that can be found throughout this region of Ohio is the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). This organism was also found along the Olentangy River Trail and was on the outskirts of the pathway. This species of tree often has multiple trunks and is known to grow leaning towards the most sunlight. It has simple and alternate leaves that turn a reddish-pink color in April. Another helpful distinguishing factor is that the leaf shape looks similar to a heart. According to the field guide by George Petrides, the flowers of redbud trees can be eaten and the red roots can generate a dye.

These heart-shaped leaves are a great way to identify an eastern redbud!

This next tree stumped me a little bit mainly because I had never seen one before. However, once I was able to figure out the identification, the name made total sense! This right here is paperbark maple (Acer griseum). This is such a cool looking tree, mainly due to its unique bark that looks like it has thin pieces of paper coming off the main trunk. Paperbark maples are native to central China and have opposite leaf arrangements. They are also trifoliate and can be irregularly lobed. Having also been spotted along the Olentangy River, this species typically grows best in loamy sand soils that are well drained and either neutral or slightly acidic. One interesting fact about this tree species is that it doesn’t withstand drought very well and actually is very difficult to propagate and grows very slowly over time.

Take a look at this really unique bark that totally looks like pieces of paper!

You can see how these leaves are irregularly lobed and don’t look quite like sugar maple leaves.

Typically, American beech trees are easily identified due to their unique bark that is a light gray color with a smooth texture. I struggled with this identification a little bit because the leaves looked similar to American beech leaves, however the bark was a much darker gray and not quite smooth. After using some deductive reasoning and field guide resources, I identified this tree as a European beech (Fagus sylvatica)! This species of tree has an alternate leaf arrangement with simple and serrated leaves. They have a bit of a wave to them, which can help to distinguish it from other beech species. Once again, this specimen was spotted along the Olentangy River Trail which suggests it grows best in acidic loamy soils with good drainage. One thing I learned about this species in particular is that it provides food and habitat to a variety of wildlife including moth caterpillars and various species of butterflies! Also, beech nuts used to be fed to pigs in order to fatten them up.

These leaves have a fun little wave to them!

This next tree is a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)! I think that the leaves of these trees are pretty distinct and recognizable, which definitely helps in the identification process. Overall, the flowering dogwood tree has an opposite leaf arrangement. They are simple leaves with an entire leaf margin. Another noticeable feature are the veins of the leaf that curve out to the edge. The Petrides field guide also gave another fun identification feature that described the bark of flowering dogwoods as being alligator-like, which was something I didn’t know. This tree was found along the Olentangy River Trail, suggesting that it grows best in moist soils and is actually found growing in the shade of larger trees. One thing I didn’t know about this tree is that it’s very susceptible to anthracnose which is a fungal disease and specifically impacts shade trees by causing spots on leaves, leaf curling, and early leaf drop.

If you look closely, you can see the upward curving veins which is really neat!

Another one of my favorite trees is the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). It has such fun and identifiable features making it impossible not to love this tree! To start off, sycamore trees have an alternate leaf arrangement and have serrated lobed leaves. The leaves are also huge; sometimes even bigger than my hand! The bark is also pretty recognizable because it peels off in areas, especially at the top of the trunk to reveal a white color. It can often be described as looking splotchy or camo-like. This tree was also found along the Olentangy River Trail which makes sense since sycamore trees are native to wetland and riparian zones. One cool tidbit about American sycamores is that because of the strength of the wood, it is often used to make various string instruments such as guitars, violins, and cellos.

Here’s a visual of the splotchy bark that helps make American sycamore so recognizable!

These huge leaves make all the other ones look small in comparison!

Over the past few days, I’ve caught myself actively trying to identify the many trees I walk by whether between classes or on the way to work. I think a large portion of that is due to this class and the article by Gabriel Popkin. It’s been fun and motivating to know that I can identify different trees in this area and know tidbits of information about them all. It’s something I plan to keep on doing and will encourage others to do so as well!