Until recently, I have been completely tree blind my whole life. I have always adored the trees, but have never known their names, except knowing maples and oaks. I lived with this this love of trees and a lack of tree knowledge, but about a year ago my desire to learn the names of the trees grew enormously. I was surrounded by people who could look at any tree, and after inspection name it. I became more curious, and learned how important knowledge of plant species is in my field of work. “Who are you?” I would ask individual trees. Now, after heavily participating in OSU’s chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration and working an internship with Preservation Parks of Delaware County, I can identify multiple different tree species! It has brought me a lot of excitement to no longer be totally tree blind.
These are my trees! They were all found along the Olentangy Trail near Tuttle Park. Because the Olentangy Trail is along the Olentangy River, I would classify this habitat as a riparian forest.
Hackberry leaves have serrate margins, a simple leaf complexity, and an alternate arrangement. The base of the leaf is uneven, one side of the base extends further toward the petiole than the other. The bark on a hackberry is also quite corky; when young, the bark feels soft and almost squishy. The fruits are small, reddish, and individually attached; they look similar to a berry mixed with a cherry.
The hackberry tree supports the hackberry butterfly! The tree is a very important food source for the larval stage. The butterflies rarely travel far from their original host plant.
Black walnut leaves are pinnately compound, have slightly serrated margins, and are attached in an alternate arrangement. There are typically 13-23 leaflets on a leaf. Often there is no terminal leaflet. The trees produce fruits, walnuts, that are green and round, appearing in the fall.
Black walnut produces Juglone, an allelopathic chemical. This chemical is introduced to the soil around the tree and helps prevent other plants from growing in the area that the black walnut is gathering water and nutrients from. Juglone makes the leaves of black walnut smell pungent.
Silver maple leaves are 5 lobed, simple, and oppositely arranged. The silver maple may be distinguished from other maples by its deeply lobed leaves with such pale undersides that the bottom of the leaf looks silvery, hence the name silver maple.
Silver maples may live in many environments, but they prefer wet sites. These trees are often found naturally in swamps or riparian zones due to the higher soil moisture content.
Sycamore leaves are 5 lobed, simple, and have an alternate arrangement. The leaf is very broad with toothed lobes. The most distinctive feature of a sycamore is its bark. The bark on these trees is grayish and seems to peel off the tree to reveal a smooth white underbark. As you look up the tree, you will see less of the gray outer bark towards the top. Sycamores produce a spherical fruit that is brown and fuzzy on the outside.
Anthracnose is a fungal leaf disease that has been impacting sycamore trees. The leaves wither up and fall off, and then are replaced by a new set of leaves. The fungal disease appears as brown, dried out blotches that show up along the leaf veins. This is not a disease that will typically kill a tree, but it may alter growth patterns.
Cottonwood leaves have serrate margins, a simple leaf complexity, and are oppositely arranged. They appear to be slightly heart shaped and they flutter in the wind due to having a flattened petiole. Mature cottonwoods have very thick, ridged bark. The cottonwood seed is dispersed by wind, using cottony fluff attached to the seeds for floating on the breeze. This is where the name cottonwood comes from.
Native Americans used cottonwoods for lodgepoles, and it is thought that the teepee shape may be based on the cottonwood leaf.
Callery pear leaves are ever so slightly serrate, simple, and alternately arranged. The margins of the leaf often appear wavy and the leaves look glossy. A way I learned to distinguish callery pear from related trees, such as cherry trees, is to feel the bottom of the leaf. Callery pear leaf veins are nearly impossible to feel, as if they are entirely inside the leaf, while cherry veins are more prominent and the outdent of the veins can be felt with your fingers. If uncultivated, callery pear will have long thorns.
Callery pear is also known as bradford pear. It has been cultivated as a pretty yard tree for many years in Ohio, but today we know it is an invasive species that has been taking over many of our empty fields. Legislation has been passed to put callery pear on the invasive species list in Ohio, and after 5 years, the plants will no longer be legal to sell in Ohio nurseries.
Box Elder Maple
Box elder leaves are compoundly pinnate, are oppositely arranged, and coarsely serrate, sometimes having 3 lobes on a leaflet. There are often 3-7 leaflets. The box elder maple differs from other maples because it has compound leaves, not simple. The seeds of a box elder are similar to other maples; they are double winged seeds evolved for wind dispersal.
Box elder leaves often look similar to poison ivy leaves, especially when young. A good way to determine if you are looking at a box elder seedling or poison ivy is to look at the leaf arrangement. Box elder leaves will always be oppositely arranged, while poison ivy leaves are alternately arranged.
White mulberry is what I believe this tree to be. Mulberry leaves are simple and arranged alternately. They may be serrate on the margins, or they may have lobes. Their leave are polymorphic, so they may have toothed margins and lobed margins on the same individual tree. I think this is a white mulberry because the leaves are smooth, unlike red mulberry’s pubescent (hairy) leaves. The fruits of the mulberry are edible, and vary between red and white mulberry. Red mulberry has mature fruits that are, shockingly, red, while white mulberry fruits mature to become a milky white. Immature white mulberry fruits may be reddish black.
Mulberries have bright yellow heartwood! This is common among their relatives that are in the mulberry family as well, including the osage-orange tree.