A bit of insight to the world around you
Trees are a bustling piece of the nature that holds its roots in history and leaves to the future. They can be an important source of food and cover for both wildlife and humans, are vital to the health of the planet. Trees can tell the story of their environment and give us clues as to what we can do to maintain their health.
But how can you know what type of tree is best for building, medicinal purposes, or foraging for food? In Gabriel Popkin’s opinion article published in the New York Times, he explores the idea of being “tree blind”, or being unaware of what the tree species can provide for us and the other critters of the forest. Like Popkin’s discusses, I am guilty of being tree blind and can generally identify what tree is a maple, oak, or conifer but I have struggled to dig deeper and confidently identify the genus and species of the trees around me.
How can you and I identify and continue to connect with our environment, if we cannot name the tree species that we can see? By stopping and observing the trees along our way, we can take notice of the leaves, fruits, flowers, and bark of the trees, and with a little digging we can get to know those around us. I hope that this page will serve as a guide to help in identifying some of Ohio’s trees, as well as give some information to help in your discovery of others.
Scientifically known as Fagus grandifolia, the American Beech has quite smooth gray bark, which can be a distinguishing characteristic throughout the year. Its leaves have an alternate arrangement and simple complexity, allowing us to narrow down the possibilities when identifying this tree in the field. Zooming in a little further, its leaves have a serrated margin with fine hairs extending from the teeth.
This particular individual is located at the Norma Johnson Center in Tuscarawas County, OH. This species thrives in mature soils and was found at a forest edge.
This tree is important for various wildlife species, and According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the now extinct Passenger Pigeon used to use it as cover during migration.
Similar to the American Beech, the leaves of Black Oaks (Quercus velutina) have alternate arrangement and simple complexity. The margins of their leaves, however, are lobed and they entire leaf is a bit hairy. Because the individuals that I could locate were quite young, I am not entirely confident in my identification. Using these identification characteristics though, I can hypothesize that this individual is a Black Oak.
This individual was located at the Norma Johnson Center along the edge of a pond.
Unknown to me, the Black Oak has bitter acorns that can be made into acorn flour after they are prepped and processed. This can be used as a substitute for all-purpose flour.
A beautiful note of spring, the Cornus florida has leaves of opposite arrangement while maintaining a simple complexity. They have an entire, or smooth, margin, are hairless, and are paired. Their flowers are commonly white and appear in clusters. This species was in abundance at the Norma Johnson Center, where it can be found in the understory of woodlands, in suburban yards, and occasionally at the forest edge. According to the Peterson “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide, the bark of a Flowering Dogwood can be removed and ground into a powder, which can then be used as a toothpaste.
Like the Black Oak, the Red Oak has leaves of alternate arrangement and simple complexity. Distinguishing between the two, however, the Red Oak has a deeper lobbed margin and the leaves are hairless. The tips of the lobes come to more of a distinct point as well. This species thrives in wooded forests. It is said that Native Americans use the bark of this tree to treat heart issues and some infections, as it has astringent, disinfectant, and cleaning properties.
The Sassafras tree is one of my favorites that I found while hiking through the Norma Johnson Center. I have enjoyed the sweet and almost root beer-like sassafras tea for many years, but I have never noticed the tree in the wild.
This tree’s leaves are of alternate arrangement and simple complexity. Their shape is quite unique, some are smooth and rounded, while others are lobed, almost resembling a glove. This tree is of wooded forest habitat.
In addition to sassafras tea, the oil of this tree can be used in soap and the bark can be used in making orange dye, according to Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide.
The Shagbark Hickory tree is notable for its shaggy looking bark that looks as if it is peeling away from the tree. This tree’s leaves are of alternate arrangement and are pinnately compound with a serrated margin and 5 leaflets per stalk. This tree thrives in mature forests, like those at the Norma Johnson Center. This tree has sweet, white fruits that Native Americans have used to make hickory milk. The wood of this hickory is also excellent for smoking meats like bacon and ham.
This tree can be found in swampy or wet forests and woodlands, which is representative of where I found this individual at the Schoenbrunn Village picnic area in Tuscarawas County, OH. The leaves of the Sweetgum have alternate arrangement, simple complexity, and are 5-lobed, almost like a rounded star. The fruits of this tree are very distinct, as they are quite prickly and large in number.
This tree is named for the sap it excretes which can be chewed to pass the time. According to Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide, the lumber of the Sweetgum can be used in the construction of various products, including boats and toys.
This tree is another one of my favorites because of the unique shape of it’s 4-pointed leaves. It thrives in fertile woods, which is also characteristic of the Schoenbrunn Village picnic area. The leaves of the Tulip tree have alternate arrangement and simple complexity. The tip of each leaf is notched and hairless. The flowers of this tree are fairly large and beautiful, but this tree is not yet in bloom.
The bark of the Tulip tree is light gray and Native Americans have used the trunks to make dugout canoes, according to Peterson’s “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide.
These are only a handful of some of the trees that are living with us here in Ohio. I hope that this brief guide can help you in your own journey in identifying trees, gaining your tree ‘sight’, and immersing yourself in the world around you!