“May the trees continue to thrive and flourish on this earth, filling our hearts with joy and inspiration.” — Stephanie Kaza

“Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.”— Chinese proverb

“He that plants trees loves others beside himself.” — Thomas Fuller

To many, sitting in a forest surrounded by the glory and majesty of the forest is almost a spiritual event, especially in the redwoods; the wind rustling through the tree tops, the sunshine filtering through the canopy, the birds chirping. Besides water, trees are one of the most important components of the earth’s ecosystem. The amount of oxygen trees produce and the consumption of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis is second only to algae. In addition, trees play a critical role in providing habitat for many insects, animals, and birds. Without trees, we would have a hard time building a house, we would have very few paper products, we could not heat our homes, and many other parts of our lives we commonly take for granted would be changed dramatically. 

In order to gain a real appreciation for the diversity of trees and their prominence within a forest ecosystem, the first step is to become familiar with the various types of trees we see every day in our woods and forests.  Geographically, Ohio is part of the great central hardwood forest which extends to Michigan and Wisconsin eastward to the Atlantic and southward from the Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi borders. It has been said that at one time, a squirrel could climb a tree on the coast and never touch the ground until it got to Indiana. Some species have been here since the time of the dinosaurs:  ginko, cypress, and dawn redwood were common during that time period.  Ohio is approximately 26,000,000 acres in size. At one time, forest covered 25,000,000 acres.  Currently there are approximately 6,900,000 acres of forest  left in Ohio, due to farming and commercial development. There are around 120 different species of trees native to Ohio. The northern half is predominately hardwood– oaks, ash, hickory, tulip poplar and maples. The southern half of the state is much more diverse, with 87 of the 120 species growing in the woodlands or forests including most species of pine. Portage, Geauga, and Trumbull counties are located in what is called the beech – sugar maple area. Trees typically included in this area are oaks, basswood, white ash, and tulip popular.  There is little if any “virgin forest” or “old growth” forest left in Ohio and it is protected by the State, Federal Government, or groups like the Nature Conservancy. Almost all the trees you see while driving are second generation or younger. Ohio is home to some gynormous trees.  (Yes, that is a technical forestry term.) Portage County is home to the biggest butternut, sassafras, and linden trees in the state. Trumbull County is home to the biggest walnut, ash, blackgum, buckeye, and hophornbeam trees in the state.  If you go to http://ohiodnr.com/tabid/4806/Default.aspx you can see pictures of each tree and be amazed at the girth, height, and spread of each species. There is also a national registry of big trees at http://www.americanforests.org/our-programs/bigtree/.

Each species of tree has certain characteristics that distinguish it from other species. No two species have exactly the same bark, leaves, and fruit. The wood from each species varies as much as the various characteristics, from soft or spongy to rock hard, stringy to brittle, coarse to smooth -grained,  The most important distinguishing characteristics of a tree in the summer are form (overall shape) and leaf structure.  In the winter, coloration of the bark, arrangement of twigs, and buds are used to distinguish between species. However, before you can readily identify any tree in the woods you need one of two very important tools….no, not an ax or saw, but a dichotomous key or field guide. If you use a key you will need a working vocabulary of common terms; such as oblong, oval, elliptical to describe Leaf Forms;  undulate, serrate, lobed to describe  Leaf Margins;  alternate, opposite, whorled to describe Leaf Arrangement; simple bi-pinnately compound, pinnately compound, and palmately compound to describe Leaf Composition and  smooth, grooved rough, furrowed to describe Bark.

Let’s begin by using a key…first there are two classifications: (A) evergreen leaves and (B) deciduous leaves. Within each class there are sub divisions. Within each sub-division there are sub-groups and within these sub groups are further classifications until we get to the identity of the tree. .   It’s really not as hard as it sounds. Here are two examples:

1. Leaves needle-like, awl-shaped or scale-like

2 .Leaves needle like

 i – Clusters containing 2-5 needles

ii – Clusters of  3 needles

iii – Clusters of 2 needles

a. Needles in cluster of 5 – White Pine

b. Needles in cluster of 3 – Pitch Pine

c. Needles in Cluster of 2 – Red Pine

1. Leaves broad, not persisting through winter

2. Arrangement of the leaves alternate

i– leaves simple

ii- leaves not entire (lobed)

A. Leaves pinnately lobed; no thorns on trigs

a. Lobes with bristle tips

aa. Leaves shiny, smooth above and below –  RED OAK

The use of a Field Guide such as National Audubon Society Familiar Trees of North America, Trees of North America by Phillips, and Sidley Guide to Trees are among some of the guides I have found useful over the years.  You just look through the pictures until you see something that has the same shape, leaf structure, or fruit. The difficulty comes into play when there are many sub-species such as oak. (More than 20)

More Nearby Nature

The Edge of the Mountain I:A very private preserve  Saturday, May 12 (9:00-Noon) At the northern border of Geauga County is one of the largest private estates in the region. Located in the in an interesting geological complex that includes Little Mountain and the East Branch of the Chagrin River we will explore old growth forests, bedrock ravines, trout streams, and search for the great diversity of wildlife that are all part of this landscape adjacent to the Holden Arboretum near Chardon. Sponsored by the Friends of the Hiram College Field Station (hiking fee: $8 for members, $10 for non-members). Registration is a must as registration is limited. Call 330.569.6003 or email sorrickmw@hiram.edu. Directions sent upon registration.

The Couch Preserve: Exploration and service  Friday, May 18 (6:30-8:30pm)  Located within the village of Hiram is a new preserve that contains a section of old growth forests, meadows for meadowlarks, a paw paw patch, a little bedrock, springs, and an historic landscape that tells a historic story. While exploring this preserve we will do a little bit of litter clean up and leave the landscape better than we found it. Sponsored by the Friends of the Hiram College Field Station (hiking fee: $3 for members, $5 for non-members). Call 330.569.6003 or email sorrickmw@hiram.edu to register. Meet at the Hiram Village Park adjacent to the Fire Station.