Those trees almost look like totally different plants!
I love looking outside into my wooded backyard, in Akron, Ohio, at the many different beautiful trees. However, I rarely even remember that the trees are many different species of plants. Just because they all stretch high and have branches too high for me to climb, it doesn’t mean that they are the same.
This lack of attention to the beautiful beasts was the subject of a New York Times opinion piece by Gabriel Popkin. In the article, Popkin talks about how people often experience “tree blindness,” or the lack of interest in even realizing that two very different trees are different species.
I agree with the author because if he had known me when he was writing the article, he probably would have used me as an example. As I said earlier, I have always enjoyed looking at the trees in my backyard and elsewhere, but my classifications basically come down to “Is it small enough for me to climb?” and “Do we have to take it down because it’s dead?”
Popkin also talks about the fact that tree blindness is curable and I have recently found that the best way to start curing it is to simply open your tree identifying book and look:
All of the trees that I have taken pictures of for this assignment, I found at or near the Iuka park, a small hidden forest in the middle of college housing.
My first tree was found at the end of Iuka where it dumps into Woodruff, right at the edge of a forest area. This behemoth is a Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis. It has alternating, simple leaves that are softly serrated (which I almost confused for a maple at first) but it is hard to tell in the picture because I had to reach so high to grab them. Also, I was not mistaken in thinking that this was a giant tree as sycamores are apparently the largest trees in the Eastern United States according to Jackie Carroll from “Gardening Know How.”
The next tree that I found was a black walnut, Juglans nigra, which was right near the sycamore at the edge of the forest where it met the street. It has alternate, pinnately compound leaves that are entire and spicy-scented when crushed, although it was not as obviously spicy smelling as I hoped it would be. I remember my uncle making my mom a table out of a walnut tree before and she said “You didn’t go and cut a walnut down for that did you?” which made no sense to me at the time. However, on the Illinois state museum website, it talks about how black walnuts are commonly thought to be very beautiful trees, which may explain my mom’s reaction although I cannot confirm.
The last tree that I found that was at the edge of the forest near the road was what I believe to be an American elm (I’m pretty sure about the elm part, but less sure about the American distinction). It has vase shaped leaves that are alternate and simple. I found an article from the Wall Street Journal that describes how the elm was possibly the most abundant tree in America until Dutch elm disease destroyed nearly 80 million within the past century. That is quite a travesty considering I really loved this medium sized beaut.
Next, as I ventured a little deeper into the actual forest part, I found a small but mighty common catalpa tree, Catalpa bignonioides. This one was difficult for me to identify, but because of the heart-shaped, entire leaves in an opposite arrangement, I was able to narrow it down. I then decided that it is probably a catalpa because of a few “cigar shaped” fruits, as Peterson Field Guide: Trees and Shrubs calls them, that seemed to be beginning to form. I also found out from a blog post on UNH’s website that the trees are basically a pollinator’s heaven.
Next, in a more marshy part of the forest, I found a sugar maple, Acer saccharum. Their leaves are pale green underneath and are simple in opposite arrangement. Also, I did know that maple syrup comes from sugar maple sap, but I did not know that bowling alleys are usually made from sugar maple wood as stated in the linked article.
As I pressed on further into the forest, I cam upon what I originally mistook for a hickory tree due to its leaves, but it was actually a tall pawpaw, Asimina triloba. The pawpaw has alternate, simple leaves that are large and toothless. Their toothlessness is what helped me to realize that they were not hickory. I had never realized that pawpaw trees had fruit, but according to the National Park Service, it produces the largest edible fruit of any tree native to North America. Next time I see a pawpaw, I will definitely be trying one of the little morsels.
After trekking slightly farther, I was originally duped by another tree. I thought that it was an elm, but upon further inspection I am confident that it is an American hackberry, Celtis occidentalis. The hackberry has alternate simple leaves, that have a serrated perimeter. The hackberry tree bark was used by Native Americans as a medicinal treatment for sore throats and some other health issues described on this website.
The final tree that I will talk about is the redbud, Cercis canadensis.The redbud also has alternate, simple leaves, but they are heart-shaped and hairless. This tree’s leaf is one of the most distinctive to me and it is also one of my favorites. Apparently I am not the only person who is a big fan of the tree. Although George Washington is best know for his alleged connection to a cherry tree, he transplanted many redbuds in his garden at Mount Vernon and according to planting trees.com, he loved them.
Although this tree quest only took me about an hour and I am certainly still not an expert, I think that Popkin’s argument that tree blindness can be cured quickly is certainly a convincing one.