Rebecca Thomas - Nature Notes column head format newest

On August 28, 2021, the Arc of Appalachia hosted a Tree ID Course at 20 locations across Ohio. Tobacco Barn Hollow, a new preserve near Pike State Forest and Pike Lake State Park, was one listed site. It is not yet open to the public, but five hours outside in the woods sounded like a great time. I could increase my knowledge by being exposure to new words, sensations, and people, all in a peaceful place. Sign me up. Accessing this nearby nature area in our neck of the woods and learning more about trees with guides was an enticing opportunity. The $25 fee made it affordable, and I am so glad that I went!

What has roots, branches, a trunk, and leaves? It is a tree. We see them on a regular basis — in our yards, on roadsides, in parks, in cities, up close, and in the distance. They are everywhere. They are life and sustain life, but how familiar with them are we? Trees provide food. They along with other plants clean the air. Their shade provides shelter from the heat. They prevent drought and floods. Trees matter. We all should take some time to get to know them better.

John Jaeger, his daughter, Andrea Jaeger, and her husband, Brit Wood showed us the way. Their tag team approach to teaching enabled each to share expertise and experiences with our group of attendees. Brit and Andrea live onsite as caretakers and also work for the Arc of Appalachia. We met outside at Brit and Andrea’s beautiful cabin home, built by the former owners and called Canebrake Ridge. After an introduction and overview, including pressed leaves and a bowl of nuts, we set off with our leaders on a moderate hike. Let the learning begin.

Maples are common trees here. Sugar Maples are often found near old homesteads. They are the best trees to tap for maple syrup. It does take 60 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Perhaps that is why my Mother always bought maple syrup at the grocery store. The Sugar Maple leaf’s top lobe looks like a square sugar cube. In this case, a lobe is a rounded portion of a leaf margin set apart by a deep indentation (or sinus). Some parts of the Red Maple (flowers, branches, leaves, buds, samaras) are normally very red. It is also known as the Swamp Maple. We did not see any Silver Maples, but they do grow in this region commonly near streams.

NN17 - Oak, maple and hickory leaves

Oak, maple and hickory leaves

In Ohio, native oak species are one of two types — either red or white oaks. To tell the difference, look at the leaves. Red oaks have points; the white oaks have rounded lobes. A friend shared an easy way to remember the two. A Red Man shoots arrows with sharp points. The Red Man used pointed arrows; the red oak has pointed lobes. Black oak, in the red oak family, has a darker bark and large, lobed leaves. Red oak has a bark that appears to have ski lines running up and down it. Chestnut oak leaves resemble American chestnut leaves. This tree is in the white oak family.

Hickory trees come in Bitternut, Shagbark, Pignut, Red, Mockernut, and Shellbark. Their leaves are compound, divided into smaller leaves. Like ash trees, these smaller leaves are leaflets. I do not speak Greek or Latin. Knowing scientific names and their English translations can help you learn more about plants and animals. The Mockernut Hickory’s Latin name is Carya tomentosa. Carya is the genus, part of taxonomy or classification in biology. That is a fancy way to say that it is a hickory. This is how we know what it is and how it fits in with other life forms. Carya derives from a Greek word for ‘walnut. This tree is in the Walnut family. Tomentosa, their species, narrows down what type of hickory this is. In this case, tomentosa means covered in hairs or hairy leaves. The nut is small and mocks us because there is not much meat inside its shell. Trees have 7 to 9 leaflets. The Pignut Hickory’s nut looks like it has a snout on one end. Some say that it is only fit for a pig to eat. Leaflets of five grace Carya glabra’s branches. Its scientific name means smooth, bald, or without hair. Shellbark Hickory’s huge nut is a distinguishing feature. Laciniosa means shredded or fringed and refers to its bark.

All five species of sumac except Poison are in our part of the state. Smooth Sumac is the most common and has numerous leaflets. A deer’s antlers grow five months of the year. Velvet surrounded them. All parts of the Staghorn Sumac bear a velvet overlay. We did not cover Fragrant Sumac which looks somewhat like poison ivy with its leaves of three. We went over Winged Sumac (Shining). It has wings or areas of leaf-like growth between the leaflets. The fruit of Smooth, Staghorn, and Winged Sumac are drupes, a collection of triangular, reddish berries.

NN 17 - winged sumac drupes (berries)
NN17 - winged sumac leaflet (wings)

Winged sumac leaflet (wings)

Our lunch break back at the cabin gave us time to refuel before heading back out into the field. Andrea had made sumac tea, and several sampled it for the first time. I found it pleasing, refreshing, and mild. The whole time we were all welcome, and someone attempted to answer every question. We got to know one another and learned. Trees were our foci, but we noticed dragonflies, wildflowers, fungi, caterpillars, birds, a toad, wasps, and other things. It was a banner day.

While I could overwhelm you with more tree facts, let us talk instead about more tree-related terms. Propolis is the glue that honey bees use in their hives. It contains saliva, beeswax, and fluid from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. A wolf tree is a standout tree with a large trunk and far-reaching branches. Smaller trees tend to surround it. This tree was once the only tree in that area, a lone wolf.

NN17 - Burl

Oak tree burl

Hello, burl. You are more common in red oaks. Indians used you to make bowls. These bowls are still made today by expert craftsmen. A burl is a large growth on the base or trunk of a tree caused by the grain growing in an unusual way. What led to this? Unsprouted bud tissue are responding to an injured area, virus, or fungal infection. The growth is rapid. The stress produces exceptional grain patterns. No two are the same. There is wood inside, and they do not hurt the tree or cause it to die sooner or affect its longevity.

My level of tree knowledge is somewhat incomplete. In middle school, my Dad helped me make a leaf collection. That was just a sample of Tennessee trees. We even visited an arboretum. Ohio’s hills and valleys have trees that I did not know well back then. Like Helen Keller at the Ivy Green water pump, I feel as though another world of exploration is opening before me. Now that the Arc staff and board advisor have taught me more about trees, I found myself wanting to key out the sumac species in my backyard. Even though I took copious notes during the course, I could not retain everything. This day was not a waste. I left knowing more than when I came. That was one goal. Mission accomplished. Next year when the Tree ID Courses happen again or at any time of my choosing, I can review and study some more. Using what I learned, I have already identified the Winged Sumac. Trees contribute to the balance of our ecosystem. A great many arboreal teaching tools surround us. It is time to get to know them better. Look closer. Delve deeper.

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