In an article that appears in the New York Times, written by Gabriel Popkin, the psychological phenomena known as tree blindness is discussed. Tree blindness is a term used to describe the state of mind that many people have regarding trees, they do not know specific types of trees and so all trees regardless of species get lumped into one general term known as “tree.” Trees make up general landscape formations like forests, but since the type of trees in the forest are not specifically known, the observer is unaware of the large amount of biological diversity around them.
In my attempt to combat my own tree blindness, I set out on a walk around my neighborhood to find some different types of trees and identify them. Hooray for tree un-blindness!
The first tree that I found was the lovely Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) that is said to grow in habitats that resemble moist woodlands. This particular tree was found in my neighborhood and interestingly enough it was planted there by a resident fairly recently, it is not naturally occurring. You can identify it as a buckeye tree because of the opposite palmately compound leaves. You can identify this as an Ohio buckeye tree because of the foul smelling scent that emits from its broken twigs. The foul smell is unique to this specific type of buckeye tree.
A fun but not very surprising fact about the buckeye tree is that is is actually Ohio’s state tree! Though, I have heard that these trees are actually more common in northern states like Michigan. Darn!
Another tree that I found around my neighborhood was the Boxelder (Acer negundo) that is said to be found in or near riverbanks, floodplains, or fertile wetlands. An interesting fact about this tree is that the Native Americans used the wood of this type of tree to make musical instruments!
This one was confusing for me to identify because I at first thought that it looked more like an ash tree than a maple tree! But after a small bit of frustration, I was able correctly identify it because of the alternate leaf arrangement and the pinnately compound leaf complexity. The other feature that really helped me was the shape of the leaflets. They have a very distinctive shape that very accurately matched the shape in my field guide! Take a look!
Believe it or not, I have some trees in my very own backyard! After I had taken a walk around the neighborhood it seemed like my tree blindness was beginning to get cured, so I excitedly ran back to my own house where I knew that I had trees just itching to be identified. One of these trees was the Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum). This type of tree usually grows on floodplains and stream banks. Something rather sad that I learned about the silver maple is that its wood is only really used for low quality furniture and flooring. I can’t help but feel bad for the little guys because of this. Do they know they are so unwanted and unloved?
Identifying a silver maple is actually relatively simple compared to some of the other trees I have or will write about here. The opposite leaf arrangement, simple leaf complexity, and lobed leaf margins indicate that this tree was a maple. You can tell that it is a silver maple because of the deep notches that separate the lobes.
Another tree that I found in my backyard was the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). It is said to be found most commonly in woodland type habitats. This wood is much more versatile, and can be used for many different things like tool handles and gun stocks unlike the silver maple. So sad.
The Sugar Maple can be identified by its opposite leaf arrangement, simple leaf complexity, and lobed leaf margins much like the silver maple. The main difference being that the notches used to create the lobes are not as deep, but still curved like the silver maple.
To round out my backyard collection of maple trees, I have another tree of opposite leaf arrangement, simple leaf complexity, and lobed leaf margins just like the last few previous ones. Its a Red Maple! (Acer rubrum) This species of maple can be seen living in a huge wide variety of habitats. From the wet swampy swamplands to the driest soils, there is NOWHERE that this tree can’t live. Apparently, the tree is artsy too! The american pioneers used red maple tree bark to make black and brown dyes and ink.
After my neighborhood and backyard adventure, I went to Linworth park in Worthington to find some more unique trees. One that I found was the Elm tree (Ulmus). This one was particularly difficult for me to identify because of the slightly different leaf shape, and so I am probably the least confident about this one. Sometimes the path to un-blindness is hard to travel. My main takeaways from this tree is the alternating leaf arrangement and the toothed leaf margin. I also recognize that this tree may have been harder to identify because it was fairly young, the leaves did not look completely full grown on all parts of the tree.
The Elm likes habitats such as stream banks and floodplains. Sound familiar? If the red maple is the artist of the tree world, then the elm is the doctor of the tree world because its wood has been used to cure gunshot wounds, broken bones, and even diarrhea. Wow, good on ya for being so useful!
Another encounter in the park was the White Oak (Quercus alba). These guys grow best on well drained slopes or uplands. They frequently find themselves under attack by Gypsy Moth larvae! I sure hope the one I found is leading a life that is not full on conflict.
The main feature of the leaves that told me it was an oak was the shape of the leaves. The leaves are lobed in a certain specific pattern that is unique to oaks only (as far as I know). White oaks specifically have rounded lobes, and their very similar look-alike the red oak has pointy lobes. We will learn more about the red oak shortly.
As promised, lets talk about the red oak (Quercus rubra)! This was the last tree that I encountered on my adventure. I found this tree just as I was about to leave park grounds. This species lives mostly in moist clay soils. Animals tend to not eat the acorns off of this type of oak tree because they are very bitter! This was surprising to me as I always thought that acorns were edible to most creatures, looks like you learn something new every day!
I was able to identify that this was a red oak because of the shape of the leaves. Oak leaves have a very distinct leaf shape. Red and white oaks both share the same general shape of their leaves, but there is one difference that usually sets them apart. The red oak has pointy lobes! That is how you can tell that the tree you are looking at below is a red oak.