“Tree Blindness” is a phenomenon described by Gabriel Popkin in the New York Times where trees are largely ignored and looked over, dominant though they are in many landscapes. I value trees and urban greenspaces in Columbus very highly, and was saddened to realize I have not paid enough attention to the trees making our campus and city so green.

The first site I surveyed was along the banks of the Olentangy river on Ohio State University’s west campus, due to its proximity to campus and apparent floral diversity. All trees identified below have been surveyed in this riparian habitat in late August 2021.

Tree Identification

Green Ash

Fraxinus pennsylvanica

Green ash leaves are pinnately compound leaves arranged oppositely. According to Petrides in the “Trees and Shrubs” Field Guide, no other oppositely arranged tree has such “squarish” twigs and “shield-shaped” leaf scars. I was excited to learn that a leaf scar is the mark left after the leaf falls off the twig. I will be sure to check this site later in the autumn season to find the shield-shaped leaf scars. According to the USDA, Green Ash is a phenotypically plastic species and displays different phenotypes across its broad range (Novia Scotia to Florida). This phenotypic plasticity may also explain why Green Ash survival is high in abandoned coal mines, and why Green Ash is an early successional tree species following fire in natural areas.

White Mulberry

Morus alba

The white mulberry’s leaves are fan-lobed (5 lobes) and alternately arranged. (Red) mulberries are a delicious snack for birds, squirrels, and Marcuses when the dark red/black fruits are ripe June-July. According to Petrides, white mulberries are whiteish (hence the name) and rather tasteless. The white mulberry is distinguished from the red mulberry (Morus rubra) by fruit color and leaf shape, as red mulberry leaves are not lobed.

Walter Reeves suggests putting the leaves in your mouth to distinguish the different species of mulberry tree when they are not producing fruits – the underside of the M. ruba leaf is hairier than M. alba. Unfortunately, I was not reading his web page when I was doing my dendroecological survey, and did not think to put any of the trees in my mouth.

Black Locust

Robinia pseudoacacia

The black locust has alternately arranged, once-compounded leaves. According to Petrides, black locusts produce fruit September – April. Many other species of locust have thorns, but the black locust does not. Apparently, they are often planted as fence posts. Black locust is a helpful nitrogen-fixing species.

Coincidentally, Black Locust is also the name of my blackened progressive technical death metal band. (This is a joke.)

Overcup Oak

Quercus lyrata

This is identifiable as an overcup oak and not a white oak (Q. alba) by the sharp angle at the base of the leaves! However, overcup oaks belong to a group of oaks known as white oaks. White oaks have simple leaves that are alternately arranged. White oaks lack bristle-tips (red oaks have bristle-tips on the leaves). According to Petrides, acorns are eaten by nearly all herbivorous birds and mammals.

This oak was very likely cultivated, as it was in a well-maintained grassy green space between Ohio Stadium and the Olentangy Trail.

American Sycamore

Plantanus occidentalis

This (very large) sycamore was identifiable by its large, serrated, lobed leaves and its mottled light brown bark exposing a smooth white underbark. Sycamore leaves are alternately arranged and fan-lobed. Petrides considers the American sycamore one of the “most massive trees in the eastern U.S.” It is certainly an impressive size!

Both the USDA and the Illinois State Museum have claimed that American sycamore makes a good street tree. I dare to disagree! Though the tree is undoubtedly beautiful, the size must surely be a problem for city architecture, especially if pruning is neglected. It would be nice to look at, but I would be scared to have a 175′ tree growing through my power lines.

Roughleaf dogwood

Cornus drummondii

Roughleaf dogwood has simple, oppositely arranged leaves. Roughleaf dogwood is identifiable by the feel of the leaves, “sandpapery above, wooly beneath.” As the picture indicates, this species produces white berries which are enjoyed by many species of birds.

I was excited to learn that this species can hybridize with other dogwoods to produce offpring with phenotypes intermediate to those of the parents. It seems like this has potential for short-term fitness advantages for both parents in terms of fecundity or anti-herbivory defense or something similar. Unfortunately for the offspring, hybrids are sterile.

Red Maple

Acer rubrum

According to Petrides, maples are the only tree with oppositely arranged fan lobed leaves. The twigs of this tree are “reddish” and the notches beneath the lobes are V or triangle shaped. The sap can be used to make maple syrup, though it is not as tasty as syrup from sugar maple.

According to the National Wildlife Foundation, Acer rubrum is a generalist species and can tolerate many different habitats across its wide range.

This guy on YouTube gives a few tips on distinguishing red maples from sugar maples in the winter time (lighter and smoother bark on red maples than sugar maples). I would like to walk through the woods with him.

Winged Elm

Ulmus alata

The winged elm tree between Ohio Stadium and the Olentangy Trail is very large with a thick trunk and large roots protruding from the ground beneath the tree. Ulmus alata have alternately arranged pinnately compound leaves. This species is named for the “wide, corky wings,” according to Petrides.

Winged elm trees are wind-pollinated! Their wood is especially good for making rocking chairs, according to Augusta Parks,  due to the flexibility of the wood.

Eastern redbud

Cercis canadensis

This eastern redbud is growing under the Woody Hayes Dr. bridge and gets very little if any direct sunlight, which makes sense as it is an understory species. Redbuds have alternate, simple leaves in heart shapes. This species was one we examined in class and I was happy to identify it outside. This redbud tree is only about shoulder-height. And I’m not very tall.

According to the UDSA, the roots and bark of eastern redbud can be used to treat fever and vomiting, and the flowers can be fried and eaten as well. Sounds like a tasty plant.

This person on YouTube is just eating plain redbud flowers straight from the tree! They also recommend adding the buds to salad or cooking them with onions, black beans, green chilis, and chives. This species flowers March-May so maybe I will try it then. Maybe not. I eat enough plants as is.