Reading Popkin’s article on tree blindness, I am definitely one that falls into this category. I can identify most of the wildlife around me, but god forbid someone sends me a picture of a tree asking what species it is. A huge part of learning to identify trees goes into appreciating the entirety of the ecosystem around you, as well as knowing what wildlife occurs there too, if you’re in the wildlife field like me.
This is the Black Walnut tree, or Juglans nigra. Other than looking at the quite familiar fruit, this tree has pinnately compound leaves, in an alternate pattern, with an oval and serrated shape. This picture was taken right outside my apartment building. The soil is not particularly moist but is rich, and with little competition the tree can get plenty of water when it rains. Walking near campus in the fall, many students probably fail to notice the sheer numbers of walnuts falling to the ground, eagerly being grabbed up by squirrels. In terms of tree blindness, I for one, have noticed this tree, both out birding on the river trail, but most pertinently, after spraining my ankle after slipping on one.
The hard and close-grained wood of the walnut tree has made it a prized material to work with, often found in furniture. Interestingly, the Black walnut also produces its own herbicide called juglone, preventing plants from growing in the understory and reducing competition.
This tree is the Black Oak, scientifically known as Quercus velutina. The leaves are simple and alternate, with bristle-tipped lobes. Along with the bristle tips, the rough bark is ridged and furrowed, both distinguishing this tree from other oaks. This tree was found at Glen Echo park, along the ridge that follows roughly 15 feet above the creek, where the soil is more dry.
With the coarse, hard wood, Black Oak is another good option for fence posts and construction, but this tree is prone to more wood defects, making it less preferable than other oak species. One thing I learned through research, is that indigenous groups had a variety of medicinal uses for Black Oak, including indigestion, fevers, sores, respiratory problems, and as an emetic.
The tulip poplar, also known as Liriodendron tulipfera, produces alternating leaves that end in distinctive lobes and two hips at the base. In the spring, this tree produces tulip-like flowers, and shifts to its yellow-green leaves early in the fall. This tree was found at Glen Echo Park, along the maintained portion of the creek bed, where soil is sandy and moist.
This tree is sometimes referred to as “canoe wood” due to its preference by settlers for canoe construction, along with houses and barns. The tulip poplar is also known for its medicinal uses, for teas and ointments.
The Eastern Redbud, also known as Cercis canadensis, can be identified through its distinctly heart-shaped waxy leaves, branching irregularly, as well as the gorgeous pink flowers that bloom in the spring. This tree was found in Glen Echo Park, along the maintained portion of trees near the creek.
This distinctly beautiful tree is often recognized by many, whether they know the species or not. The tiny pink buds spread all over the tree branches, as well as the trunk. These buds are also edible, with a citrusy flavor. This tree is especially important to migratory birds, housing flowers containing nectar and plenty of insects.
The American Beech, Fagus, is another often overlooked tree, seen commonly along riparian habitats. This tree is an easier species to identify, with the smooth, dark bark. The leaves are simple and alternately arranged, with a serrated, oval shape. This tree was found in Glen Echo Park, along the northern river bank, closer to the sloping habitat.
Popkin’s article mentions the wasted resources we lose from our lack of tree knowledge, and the American Beech is a great example of this. The beechnuts are edible to humans, and could be used more often by humans. Beechnuts are also a prime source of food for wildlife, so perhaps this is a tree better left unharvested.
Another species of oak, the White Oak is a common variety around Columbus, often labeled simply as “oak” by many. The scientific name for this species is Quercus alba, identifiable from other oak species by its alternately arranged leaves being smooth-lobed, and its coarse but non-ridged bark, looking more scaly. This tree was found outside the entrance of Glen Echo Park, along Indianola Avenue.
Unlike the Black Oak, the more stable wood of the White Oak is extensively used in furniture production, but is being replaced by Red Oak due to its ease and speed of growing. The bark of the White Oak also flakes off in plates due to a harmless fungus, leaving smooth patches behind.
The Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides, is a large growing tree often found in riparian areas. The cottonwood has an alternate leaf arrangement, with teardrop-shaped and serrated leaves. The bark is heavily ridged and furrowed, looking like a mountain range. This tree was found at Glen Echo Park, along the creek.
The growth of the Eastern Cottonwood makes it an excellent shade tree, especially along lakefronts. The soft bark is excellent for cavity creation, being crucial habitat for many wildlife species. With the wood being so soft, it is also often used in paper production and cheap wood manufacturing.
The last tree of this post is the River Birch, or Betula nigra. Birch trees are easily identifiable through their flaky, paper-like bark. The leaves are alternately arranged and double-toothed, with a sharp, triangular shape. This tree was found at Glen Echo Park, along the higher riverbank above the creek.
The River Birch is the only fruit-bearing birch, as well as the only coastal plain species found in the southeast. This tree is often planted for erosion prevention and mine reclamation due to its strength and ease of growth. Its light weight also makes it a prime choice in production of false limbs, an excellent use of resources for humans, and an easy to grow and replace tree species.