Identifying Trees

I have never been one to be very observant of the world around me. I am typically a person always thinking of things that I must do, in my own head, and not appreciating the beauty of the things right in my view. After reading an article by Gabriel Popkin called “Curing Yourself of Tree Blindness,”, I realized just how much I have been missing out on. In this article, they discuss how many people can no longer recognize the trees around them.  I have always liked trees, but I have never thought enough about them to realize their true beauty. This weekend, I was able to experience a few of the amazing varieties that we have right here in Ohio.

This weekend, I had the chance to return to my hometown of Loveland, Ohio. It was in the woods behind a friend’s backyard where I found the first four trees that I will identify here. The first tree that I identified was a Pin Oak, known scientifically as Quercus palustrius. I identified this tree beginning with its alternate, simple leaves. Its leaves are feather-lobed and wide. I was able to tell it apart from the other oaks due to the bristle-tipped leaves, and the lower branches pointing downward. I found it more towards the center of the wooded area, in a lower area that collected more water.

According to the Peterson “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide, the Pin Oak is typically found in bottomlands and moist woods. This tree is utilized for construction timbers, mine props, and fuel, due to having hard and heavy wood (according to the USDA ).

Continuing with trees that have alternate, simple leaves, in the same wooded area, I found an elm tree. I believe this tree to be an American Elm, known scientifically as Ulmus americana. According to the Peterson “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide, they are typically found in bottomlands. It also states that white-tailed deer browse the twigs of this tree, which I found interesting, as white-tail deer are very commonly seen in my hometown. I was able to identify this tree due to its unlobed, serrated, and somewhat egg-shaped leaves. Its leaves were also sandpapery on the top, and its twigs were hairless.

Continuing in the same area, however a bit more towards the edge of the wooded area, I found a tree with alternate leaves yet again. However, this tree’s leaves were compound. I quickly identified it as a walnut tree due to its once-compound, toothed leaves. I was able to narrow it down to a Black Walnut, scientifically known as Juglans nigra, due to its lack of end leaflets. According to Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs”, this tree is typically found in the woods. Peterson’s guide also states that this tree is very valuable, due to its strong and durable heartwood.

The final tree that I identified in this area had a different leaf structure than any that I had identified prior. It was my first tree with opposite leaves! At this point, I could feel my “tree blindness” somewhat fading away, as I remembered the “MADBuck” saying that we learned in class. I also realized my excitement at being able to get an idea of what a tree was without the help of the field guide. This tree had compound leaves, and around 7 leaflets on each leaf, and its twigs were round. This narrowed it down to the White Ash, known scientifically as Fraxinus americana. According to Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs” these typically are seen in upland forests. In the wooded area, it was towards the top of an incline, near the woods edge. Also according to Peterson’s guide, White Ash is the largest native ash, and provides very strong and durable tinder! Halfway through the weekend, I returned to Columbus where I identified the latter half of my trees. This first tree, I identified in a small patch of wooded area, right outside my backyard. I chose to identify this one, because I loved the interesting looking fruits hanging from it. This tree was the Common Catalpa tree, scientifically known as Catalpa bignonioides, a tree with opposite, simple leaves. The leaves are heart-shaped, which I loved, but it was most identifiable by its cigar-shaped long fruits. These trees are typically found in the Gulf Coast, according to Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs.” Also according to the guide, it often produces “catawba worms” for fish bait.

The second tree that I identified in Columbus also was in the wooded area behind my house. This tree was the American Hackberry, scientifically known as Celtis occidentalis. According to Peterson’s guide, this tree is typically found in woods and open places. This tree has alternate, simple leaves that are long and pointed, toothed, and sandpapery on the top. It also has hairless twigs. According to the USDA this tree is commonly used as a street tree, due to its tolerance to urban environments and its ability to withstand drought. This next tree actually stopped me in my tracks because of how cool I thought the leaf shape was. After working on this project for a couple days, I had started keeping my eyes peeled for what I thought were cool trees. While walking to a friends house in Columbus, I was passing a small park on a steep hill. It had just rained, but this cool tree near the bottom caught my eye, because it had what looked like star-shaped leaves. So I trudged my way down the muddy hill, and took pictures of it! This tree turned out to be a Sweetgum tree, scientifically known as Liquidambar styraciflua. According to Peterson’s guide, these are typically found in wet woods, which I thought was really fitting for my situation. The leaves were alternate and simple, toothed, and hairless. It also had prickly, hanging balls, which you can see hidden behind the leaves in my second picture. Also, according to Peterson’s guide, many people chew hardened clumps of this tree’s gum!
The last tree that I identified I also found in Columbus. It was on the edge of a small patch of wooded area, in a small park. It caught my eye due to its large, winged seeds. Its leaves were opposite and simple, and due to the seeds, I identified it as a Norway Maple. It is scientifically known as Acer plantanoides. However, according to the USDA the Norway Maple is typically found in continental Europe. In the U.S. it is typically found in more urban areas, but is beginning to invade upon woodlands.
Focusing on tree identification these past couple days has really helped with my tree blindness and also with my nature blindness overall. I’ve been finding so many things around me more interesting, and I’ve been becoming more excited with the beauty and diversity of nature in even just Columbus. I believe that Popkin made great points in their article, and that trees (and nature in general) should not be treated with apathy, and one should try their best to be more observant of the vast world around them.