Addressing Tree Blindness

Tree blindness is something that an unfortunate number of people suffer from. Identifying trees simply isn’t a necessity anymore, however it is still useful! Are you an enjoyer of tree nuts? You need to know how to identify trees so you don’t eat any toxic nuts! Do you enjoy berries and fruits? You need to know how to identify trees so you don’t eat a toxic fruit! On top of these more practical applications of tree identification, it is just plain cool to be able to go on a walk and recognize all the different trees!

The New York Times has posted a piece by Gabriel Popkin aptly named “Cure Yourself of Tree Blindness.” He discusses the practical and ecological benefits to knowing how to identify trees, mainly for foraging and forest management. He also talks about how connecting with trees, and with nature as a whole, can help you to “leave the human-created world” and that is something that I think is so important.

Gabriel Popkin’s Curing yourself of tree blindness: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/26/opinion/sunday/cure-yourself-of-tree-blindness.html

Tree Identification

I walked around Scioto Grove Metro Park with my mom and siblings to identify trees for this page. It was so relaxing to be out in nature for a while. The best thing to do to cure tree blindness is to just get outside. You can take a class like Gabriel Popkin offers, or one through a university like I am doing. But you don’t have to, all you need is a pair of eyeballs and some free time.

Some of the first trees I saw when we began our walk were oaks (Quercus). They have alternate leaf arrangement, simple leaf complexity, and have lobed margins. Something I didn’t know until completing out question set was that the acorns of red and white oaks have different maturing times and flavors! Red oak acorns mature in two years and produce more tannins, making them bitter. White oaks produce a sweeter acorn that matures in one year. These trees can be found in dry or moist woods environments.

White Oak (Quercus alba), note the lobed leaves and alternate arrangement

Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) is part of the red oak group, note the deeply lobed leaves and the bristled tips

Next we have the Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) which is most easily recognized by its large thorns on its trunk, branches, and twigs, as well as its pinnately compound, alternate leaves with entire margins. This tree can exhibit both once and twice compound leaves on the same tree! (https://naturalresources.extension.iastate.edu/forestry/iowa_trees/trees/honeylocust.html). The wood is quite strong as well and is often used in building projects. These trees are often found in woods and fields.

Note the large number of thorns all over

See a closer look at the thorns, as well as a leaflet

Next up we have the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) which has opposite, palmately compound leaves with entire margins. It is distinguished from other buckeyes by its fruit which is weakly thorny. The buckeye is the mascot of the Ohio State University and has also inspired a tasty dessert. However, the actual nuts are toxic, so try not to mistake them for the chocolate peanut butter treat.

This particular specimen has seen much better days. But, you can still see the palmate leaflets and there were fruits growing, although I didn’t capture them in this image.

Next there’s an American Hackberry (Celtis Occidentals)! This tree has simple, alternately arranged leaves with serrate margins. Additionally, the leaves aren’t symmetrical, one side “bumps out” more than the other. Because it grows fast, provides good shade, and can survive under many different conditions, hackberry trees are chosen often for landscaping. Additionally, the berries are eaten by a variety of wildlife and attract many pollinators, but particularly butterflies! (https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?ItemID=845). They can grow in a wide range of soils.

Note the alternately arranged, serrated leaves

A closer look and  you can really see the distinctively asymmetrical look of the leaves

The maple (Acer) tree has a very distinctive leaf shape that many people will recognize. It also produces sap which makes many people’s favorite topping for breakfast foods: maple syrup. Maple trees can be identified by their opposite arrangement, simple complexity and lobed margins, they are part of MADBuck (Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Buckeye). They typically grow in cool, moist forests.

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) leaves, notice the opposite arrangement and lobed margin

Up next we see a Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)! Pictured below you can see some walnuts growing, as well as the distinctive alternate, pinnately compound leaves with toothed margins. The black walnuts specifically, as shown in the Peterson’s field guide, typically have 7-17 narrow leaflets with the ends usually not present. The nuts are edible, so make sure to get them while they’re ripe. This tree is sensitive to soil conditions and needs moist, well-drained, neutral soils (https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/volume_2/juglans/nigra.htm).

Note the pinnately compound leaves usually missing the end leaflet

Next is the mulberry (Morus) tree. This one was harder for me to identify and even as I’m typing this, I can’t tell if it is a red or white mulberry (and yes, both these pictures are from the same tree). It has simple, alternating leaves that are toothed and lobed. Red Mulberries (Morus rubra) produces wonderful blackberry-like fruit in the spring while the White Mulberries (Morus alba) produce a white (and according to Peterson’s field guide) tasteless fruit. So, in the summer it would be far easier to tell the difference between the two. They are commonly found growing in moist, nutrient dense soils and in woodsy areas.

A closer look at the simple, alternating leaves that are lobed on one side

See the simple, opposite leaves that are serrate and lobed on one side

Finally we have the classic Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) tree. The pictures I have aren’t great because unfortunately the ones I took turned out blurry, but I do have pictures of the trunk and if you squint really hard, you cans see the leaves way up high at the tall tops of the trees. The female cottonwood tree can be identified in the summer by their “cotton.” All common cottonwood trees have simple, alternating, toothed leaves that have a distinctive heart shape. They grow in nutrient rich, moist soils.