Exploring the trees around Columbus.

Hello! I am currently living at on off campus house. To get to class I walk to campus. On my way, I walk through various parks and areas with many trees.  I can relate to the article “Cure Yourself of Tree Blindness” by Gabriel Popkin. I did not even have to read the article to say to myself “I am definitely tree blind”.  I often do not acknowledge the beautiful trees that I walk past on my way to class. I believe this is because I am constantly distracted by all the things going on in our busy lives. I find it funny when Popkin mentions how many sophisticated individuals are extremely talented in complex areas, but they don’t know anything about the trees around them. . He mentions many great benefits from being educated on trees. It’s interesting to read that any tree is edible with the right preparation. I’m not sure if I’m ready to eat acorns but I enjoy knowing that I can if I needed to. Reading  about  Popkin’s experience as he’s become more proficient identifying trees was inspiring. I hope to understand the basics of tree identification after this class so, I too, can benefit from the knowledge.

As I took a few hours to identify individual trees, I can understand what Popkin means when he says “When you engage with a tree, you momentarily
leave the human-created world”. While on campus, it can feel like you’re so disconnected from nature but if you take the time to observe and respect these beautiful beings you can have a momentary escape.

Tulip-Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

The first tree that I took notice of was a Tulip-Tree. I stumbled upon this first outside of Jennings Hall, then again at a park near my house, Goodale Park. The tree was in a flat region of the park that looked as though it could have been wet, but was not. The Tulip-Tree is a common tree that can be found all throughout Ohio. What originally caught my eye about this unique tree was its unique leaves. Upon further research, both the leaves and the flowers resemble that of a tulips (the flower). This spectacular tree is the tallest of the trees in eastern forests. It can reach into the sky over 100 feet. Unfortunately, the tree that I visited was not this large. The Tulip-Tree has striated gray bark.  Tulip-Trees can be found inhabiting moist forests with water flow. Although it is found in areas where water is abundant, it prefers a well drained landscape. This tree prefers rich, deep, slightly acidic soil, but can also be found in areas that lack these characteristics. The Tulip-Tree grows quickly. During its youth it can add up to two-three feet per year.

Now lets talk about the leaves and flowers. The leaves of this tree are alternate and simple. According to The Peterson Field Guide, the leaves are noticeable by the notch at the center tip. The leaves contain four lobes. The lobes of the Tulip-Tree leaves are pointed. The margin of the Tulip-Tree leaf is entire. The combination of the flat base, long petiole, and wide blade allow these leaves to shimmer in a slight breeze. The leaves turn yellow in autumn making this tree quite the spectacle. Uniquely,  the Tulip-Tree drops its interior leaves in the summer if the soil is too dry. This makes the Tulip-Tree an excellent indicator of a drought. The flowers of the Tulip-Tree are orange, green, and tulip like. Now that I’m less tree blind, I am excited to see these stunning flowers.

Resources: (Ohiodnr, The Peterson Field Guide)

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

The second tree that I stumbled upon was on THE Ohio State Universities campus. It was not in a swamp by any means, more of a sloped field that looked as though it had good runoff. It is known as a Swamp White Oak. The Swamp White Oak is a good looking tree. As Popkin stated, oaks are an easy tree to spot, but which one is it? It took me a couple tries to differentiate this from many of the other species of oaks but I finally did it. It is noticeable by its dark green rounded lobed leaves  that are a shiny white on the underside. That’s what I was missing. The shiny white underside! The dual color of its leaves is alluded to in its species name bicolor, I think. No that’s right, according to ohiodnr. According to The Peterson Field Guide, This White oak has more shallow lobes than that of other White Oaks, which also make it distinct from other oaks. Also, the base of the leaf is wedge shaped. Interestingly, the Swamp White Oak is the only oak to have its acorn stalks much longer than the its leaf stalks. This tree usually grows up to 70 feet tall and prefers a wetter landscape. Although, it is surprisingly resistant to draughts, making it possible to be seen in a dry landscape.

Resources: (The Peterson Field Guide, Ohiodnr)

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Ahhh, finally, a tree that I was familiar with when I was completely tree blind. The Red Maple. I see the one everywhere, but I found this specific one in a dry, flat area of Goodale Park in a . The Red Maple is a medium sized tree that was easily identifiable by its three-five pointed lobed leaves. With three large lobes and sometimes two smaller lobes at the base of the leaf. The margin of the Red Maple leaf is serrated and has V shaped notches. The arrangement and complexity are opposite and simple, respectively. The twigs of this tree are reddish and do not have an odor, according to The Peterson Field Guide. This tree can grow up to 90 feet tall and can span four feet in diameter.

According to Wildadirondacks, the Red Maple is one of the first trees to flower in the spring. It’s flowers are small and pink to red. Interestingly the flowers are only found in the upper portion of the crown. Uniquely, the Red maple contains the smallest fruits of native maples.

Resource: The Peterson Field Guide, Wildadirondacks

Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

The next leaf that caught my eye was a unique star shaped leaf that belongs to the Sweet Gum tree. I saw this tree in Goodale park as well. It was in a dry, flat area with lots of healthy looking grass. The Sweet Gum Tree is an easily identifiable tree because of its five-seven pointed lobed leaves. These leaves are sort of star shaped with small toothed margins making it easy to identify, according to The Peterson Field Guide. I believe that this tree would be a great start for those who are tree blind because it is distinct and very common.

This tree can grow to heights of 90 feet and has a ovoid shaped crown, as an adult. When the leaves of the Sweet Gum is crushed it produces a pleasant fragrance. This is also true for the sap of the Sweet Gum. Illinoiswildflowers  notes that the sweet gum was much more widely distributed than it is today. This is suggested by fossil records.

Resources: Illinoiswildflowers, The Peterson Field Guide

River Birch (Betula nigra)

A tree that I hear the name of very often but never knew what it looked like was the River Birch. Now that I have identified this tree I can see the fog of tree blindness clearing up.  I found this tree in a ravine near OSU’s campus. It was near a water, but definitely not right up next to it. I first noticed this tree because of its shaggy bark. Then I took a closer look at the leaves. According to The Peterson Field Guide, the River Birch has a wide based triangular leaf. In my own words, I’d like to say that it looks like a arrow head with its doubly serrated margin.

The leaves of this beauty are simple and alternate  This tree regularly grows to heights of 80 feet. Interestingly, according to ohiodnr, this tree is a treasure with its dark gray to black outer bark and  flakey, orange and cream, ornamental inner bark. Unfortunately, the tree that I stumbled upon only has small sections where the bark is shaggy.

Resources: The Peterson Field Guide, ohiodnr

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

The next tree that I stumbled was an American Sycamore. I fount this tree near OSU’s campus as well. It was on top of a hill in a full sun landscape. As I identify more and more trees I can start making sense of them just by using some basic rules, which is exactly what Popkin was talking about. I was quicker than ever in identifying this one. The  American Sycamore has simple leaf complexity and alternate leaf arrangement. Each leaf is comprised of three to five lobes edged with pointed teeth and they can grow up to ten inches. These big floppy leaves are difficult to photograph. While trying to take the picture, I could not get full view of the leaf and eventually dropped my phone (Tree Frustration). This tree prefers deep soil that is moist.

The trunk of this tree is both massive and beautiful. The Peterson Field Guide notes that the  American Sycamore known to be the most massive tree in the eastern United States, by general consensus. The trunk can commonly grows to a diameter of  eight  feet and has been seen with a 14 foot diameter trunk. The coloration of the shaggy bark creates a stunning mosaic of colored pieces. According to The Peterson Field Guide American Indians used to make dugout canoes out or the trunks and one weighed 9000 pounds.

Resources: The Peterson Field Guide, ohiodnr

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

One of the last trees that I came across was a long awaited prize. The Redbud. This tree too, was easy to identify because we have talked about it in class frequently. I found this tree atop a gulley off of OSU’s campus. This particular redbud was sticking out the edge of the forest, like most Redbuds do. It was particularly easy to spot because of its smooth heart shaped leaves. Taking a step back, Redbud’s leaves are simple in complexity and alternate in arrangement. The bark of this tree is dark and has thin grooves. This tree is known for its beautiful pinkish purple, not red, flowers. The begin to bloom in the early spring and are found all over the tree, according to ohiodnr. It is interesting that this tree only lives for 20 years before it begin to die. Ohiodnr mentions this is especially true in urban areas.

Resources: The Peterson Field Guide, ohiodnr

Coffee-Tree (Gymnocladus dioica)

Now that I am no long tree blind I thought I would try my hand at identifying a tree that is twice compound. The tree that I identified was the Coffee-Tree. I found this tree on the south oval of OSU’s campus, which is a low land that is highly shaded. This tree has twice pinnately compounded leaves that are arranged alternately. According to ohiodnr, the leaves of the Coffee-Tree are the largest on the eastern part of the North American continent. This is because there are many leaflets attached to a single stalk. They can grow up to three feet long. This tree regularly stands at a height of 60 feet tall with just a 2 foot base



According to The Peterson Field Guide, the fruit from this tree has been used throughout history. The American Indians ate the Coffee-Tree fruit after roasting. Additionally the beans of the fruit were said to have been roasted and used to brew coffee in some areas of the US during the Civil War.

Resources:  The Peterson Field Guide, ohiodnr

Whew, that was a lot of fun. I’m glad that I am no longer as tree blind as before. Like Popkin, I believe that I can let myself be a little wild!