Let’s “spruce” things up

Hello botanists! I hope you all thought my tree pun was oak-ay. I tried looking up some tree puns but apparently they’re not very “poplar”. Alright alright, enough with the puns. Let’s talk about trees! When is the last time you really saw a tree. I don’t mean just passing by a tree on your way to class or work, I mean really saw a tree for who it really is. Until this past weekend, I cannot tell you when the last time was that I saw a tree and really recognized it for both its beauty and purpose (embarrassing, right?). In the article, Cure Yourself of Tree Blindness, Gabriel Popkin talks about just that. Popkin mentions that many of his students are highly educated, successful people, and yet they know next to nothing about trees.

I’ll admit it, I was tree blind. Phew, that feels good to get off my chest. In an effort to cure myself from this, I took a 5.5 mile stroll alongside some fellow botanists in search of trees that we could identify and appreciate. In his article, Popkin describes trees as “strangers” to most people. In an effort to make my new tree friends feel less like strangers, I have decided to give them names. Hopefully this makes your reading experience more enjoyable, and also helps you feel more familiar with the trees I am about to introduce to you! Alright, enough blabbing, let’s get into some trees!

Eastern Redbud

Let’s start out with the beautiful Priscilla. Priscilla goes by many names, including Eastern Redbud, Judas Tree, and, when she is feeling fancy, Cercis canadensis. Priscilla has leaves that are alternate in arrangement and simple (though she is anything but), and check out those cool heart shaped leaves! Priscilla was found in the woodlot here on campus, near the south oval, in a foresty habitat. According to the book Trees of the Eastern and Central United States and Canada by William M. Harlow, legend says Judas hung himself on a Redbud tree, causing the leaves to turn from white to red in shame. Priscilla denies this tale, but the pictures prove otherwise.


The next tree I would like to introduce to you is Gladys, the Pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba).  Gladys was found near Priscilla, the Redbud, and (similarly to Priscilla) has alternate leaf arrangement and simple leaves. As you can see in the first picture, Gladys happens to be bearing fruit this time of year! I tried to taste one, but unfortunately it was not yet ripe. According to this article, the Pawpaw tree produces the largest edible fruit that is native to North America, which I find quite impressive. I am hoping that in these next coming weeks I will be able to find a ripe Pawpaw fruit and experience the deliciousness that I have read about!

Tree of Heaven

One of my most exciting finds was this beautiful Tree of Heaven (Ainlanthus altissima), who I have affectionately named Bart. Bart has an alternate leaf arrangement and pinnate leaves. As you can see in the first picture, the leaf margin is entire except for two little teeth near where the leaf meets its stem, which is one of characteristics that made identification much easier. Unlike Priscilla and Gladys, Bart was found on the Olentangy Trail very close to the river. According to this article, Trees of Heaven are very hard to get rid of once they are planted, due to their rapid growth and absence of disease or insect problems. Because of this, many people deem Trees of Heaven a problem, or even invasive. Poor Bart 🙁


Allow me to introduce you to one of my other exciting finds, Darius the Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Darius has an alternate leaf arrangement and simple leaves, and was found near Bart. Some of Bart’s key identifying factors were his large, four-lobed leaves and his fruiting cone which can be seen in the third picture. Tuliptrees can grow to be very large. In fact, they are the tallest of eastern hardwoods. Darius was not very big, so he must be pretty young. The wood of Tuliptrees is used to manufacture furniture parts, plywood panels, paper, and more according to Britannica.


One of the trees I was the most impressed by was Virgil. Like Priscilla, Virgil goes by many names, including Sycamore, Planetree, and Platanus occidentalis. Virgil has an alternate leaf arrangement and simple leaves. Darius may have him in height, but Virgil has the largest diameter of eastern trees, according to Trees of the Eastern and Central United States and Canada by William M. Harlow. A key identifying feature of the Sycamore tree is its bark, which has patches of greyish-white where the brown bark has peeled off. Virgil was also found very close to the Olentangy River surrounded by several other trees and shrubs, but he definitely stood out amongst the rest.


The Osage-orange tree (Maclura pomifera), who I named Susan, has to be the one I was the most excited about seeing. Susan has an alternate leaf arrangement and simple leaves, and was found further into forest off the Olentangy Trail. My excitement upon finding this tree stems way back into elementary school. I remember one day a teacher brought in dozens of fruit from the Osage-orange tree and gave each of us one, telling us they would ward off spiders in our basements. I had no idea what exactly it was that I was receiving, where it came from, or the credibility of this statement. All I knew was that I was getting a fun green ball that somewhat resembled a brain and was going to keep away those scary spiders in my basement.

Upon further research, I have discovered that Osage-orange fruits, also known as hedge apples, do in fact have insect repelling powers, and the extracts from some fruit can even be as effective as DEET. I guess these elementary school teachers really knew what they were talking about. Shoutout to Susan for allowing me to use her fruit to keep the bugs away back in the day!

Red Mulberry

Are you tired of trees with alternate leaf arrangements and simples leaves? Me too. Well anyways, here’s another one! This is Albert the Red Mulberry (Morus rubra). He lives in the forest just off the Olentangy Trail. When it comes to Mulberry trees, male and female flowers are born on different trees. This is how I knew Albert was a man. The first photo is of a male Red Mulberry flower that I found growing on him. According to this article, Native Americans used Red Mulberry medicinally as a laxative and to treat dysentery. The wood of the Red Mulberry tree is durable and lightweight, and is often used to make fenceposts and barrels.

Black Walnut

Last but certainly not least, we have Peter the Black Walnut tree (Juglans nigra). Peter has an alternate leaf arrangement and pinnate leaves (finally, something compound!). The first photo features Peter’s fruit and nut (and my Tevas – that’s how you know I am a true outdoorswoman). Peter lives in the woodlot near the south oval and , apparently, people like to use him to set up their hammocks. According toTrees of the Eastern and Central United States and Canada by William M. Harlow, Black Walnut is one of our finest hardwoods, and is often used to make cabinets and furniture. The fruit husks contain a dye that can be used to stain clothes, which could be seen on the sidewalk near this tree which was stained black in several places.

In conclusion…

Well botanists, this brings us to the end of my tree identification adventure. I learned a lot in those 5.5 miles I walked, and I also had a lot of time to think about my own tree blindness. I would also like to thank my fellow botanists who braved this painful (and itchy) journey with me (the bug bites…the poison ivy…I am in pain). Trees have so many uses, both for humans and wildlife, and are never something that should be taken for granted. This experience certainly brought me closer to curing my tree blindness, and I hope my documentations of this inspire you to think about your own tree blindness and hopefully go out and make some tree friends of your own!