Sequoia

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While visiting Yosemite National Park in April, I walked a mile through the snow to have my first-ever encounter with these massive trees.

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This species is the largest known tree on earth and grow only on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada at elevations between 4,500 to 7,000 feet. Found nowhere else on the planet, they are closely related to California’s Coast Redwoods – the tallest trees in the world.

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Sequoias can grow to be about 30 feet in diameter and more than 250 feet tall. They can live to be over 3,000 years old, with the oldest one on record living more than 3,500 years.

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Mature Sequoias lack branches on the lower half of their trunks. Their trunks taper as they rise, forming a rounded top where individual branches sweep downward. Their green needles are small and arranged in spirals.

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The snowpack from the Sierra Nevada provides these giant trees with the thousands of gallons of water every day.

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It was an awesome experience to meet a tree “in person” that I have been reading about for so many years!

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Pawpaw

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While walking along the edge of a cypress swamp in southern Illinois, I encountered this iconic tree. It’s the only member of a large, mainly-tropical plant family naturally residing in the United States, and it produces the largest edible fruit native to North America.

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Pawpaw is a small tree, typically growing to a height of 35 feet. It tends to grow in the understory or at woodland edges, and is often found in moist places such as the bottoms of ravines, steep hillsides and on the banks of creeks.

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The fruit is fragrant and has a distinctly bright, tropical flavor, often compared to bananas, but with hints of mango, vanilla and citrus. It has the inelegant appearance of a small green potato and may occur in clusters on the tree.

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The dark green leaves (which turn yellow in Autumn) of the Pawpaw have a tropical look, with their large, shiny blades that are widest just behind the leaf tip. The leaves often hang down like “dog ears” from the twigs.

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The smooth, thin, gray bark of Pawpaw becomes more warty and rough with increasing trunk girth.

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Larvae of the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly feed exclusively on young leaves of Pawpaw, but never occur in great numbers on the plants.

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This tree is also known as Quaker Delight or Hillbilly Mango.

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Buttonbush

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Walking along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, I noticed this distinctive white, spherical flower with needle-like projections growing on a shrub.

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This plant is a member of the Coffee Family and is native to eastern and southern North America. Like the Coffee Plant, its leaves are glossy green and up to 4 inches long and 2 inches wide. It’s unusual flowers are a source of nectar, attracting butterflies, bees, moths, hummingbirds and 20-something other species of birds.

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Buttonbush can be found in wet habitats such as marshes, shorelines, ditches and areas near the rivers and ponds. It is one of the first plants that will appear in areas destroyed by floods.

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This is multi-branched, round-shaped shrub typically reaches 6 to 12 feet in height. Its older trunk bark is attractively diamond-patterned with lattice-like raised ridges. Its fruit is a reddish-brown, round-shaped capsule filled with two seeds. It ripens during September and October. Ducks and other waterfowl eat Buttonbush seeds.

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If you come across a Buttonbush in bloom and patiently observe the activity around it, you’ll be likely to see spiders, bees, butterflies, moths, wasps and perhaps even a hummingbird buzzing around its flowers.

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You’ll understand very quickly why this plant is so important native wildlife and our environment.

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Black Locust

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This tree is native to the eastern United States, but the exact natural range is not accurately known, since it has been cultivated and is currently found across the nation, in each of the 48 continental United States.

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Black Locust Trees feature many oval, bluish-green compound leaves with a contrasting lighter undersides to give this tree a beautiful appearance in the wind and contribute to its grace. The tips of each leaflet may be slightly notched, rounded, or pointed.

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Its sweetly fragrant, pendulous, creamy white flowers in hang clusters. Each cluster can be up to 8 inches long. Here in northeast Ohio, its flowers are produced in late May through June.

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The Black Locust’s fruit is a flat, smooth pea-like pod 2–4 inches long and about a half an inch wide. It usually contains 4-8 seeds.

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The wood is extremely hard, being one of the hardest woods in Northern America. It is very resistant to rot, and durable, making it prized for furniture, flooring, paneling, fence posts, and small watercraft.

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Black Locust can quickly grow to 50 feet tall by 25 feet wide, when found in the open. They are not tolerant of shade. As a grade-schooler we planted these and is was astonishing how fast they grew.

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This is a member of the Bean Family and is related to Redbud, Honeylocust, Kentucky Coffeetree, and Wisteria, as well as other Locust Tree species. Its many interesting characteristics make it a great tree to study.

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Coulter Pine

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While hiking on Mount Hamilton in California, it was impossible not to notice a few impressively-sized pine cones on the ground. The cones were extremely spiny and exuded a sticky substance that was noticeable when they were picked up.

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The Coulter Pine is also known as Big-cone Pine; this species is named after Thomas Coulter, an Irish botanist and physician. Coulter Pine needles occur in bundles of three and are 6 to 12 inches long.

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This tree produces the heaviest cone of any pine tree. Old time lumberjacks called them “widow makers” because the cones occasionally killed loggers when they fell. People are advised to wear hardhats when working in Coulter Pine groves.

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This evergreen is native to the coastal mountains from central California to the Baja peninsula. The tree’s crown is broad, thin and irregular.

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Its bark is dark gray to black, deeply rugged with scaly ridges. It can reach heights of 75 feet with a straight to contorted trunk up to 3 feet in diameter.

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For its flower, male cones are yellow in tight clusters, while female cones dark red-brown. This is a slow growing species, reaching only 20 feet in 20 years. Given the proper conditions, the trees can live up to 100 years.

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Their massive spiny cones, can be as long as 20 inches and weigh more than 10 pounds. This was a neat tree to spend time with on my California visit.


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Red Pine

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This tree (also called Norway Pine) is one of the most extensively planted species in the northern United States and Canada. It is frequently used in Ohio as a reforestation pine tree and is valued for its lumber and pulpwood.

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Although a tree of the Northern Forest Region and not native to Ohio, isolated pockets can be found in northern Illinois, eastern West Virginia and Newfoundland. When growing under natural conditions, Red Pine reaches a height of 90-100 feet and a trunk diameter of 30-40 inches, with a tall, straight, clean trunk and an open, rounded picturesque crown.

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Red Pine has two medium five-inch long needles per bundle. They persist for up to four years on the twigs and branchlets, giving this pine tree a very dense appearance. The characteristic that sets the needles of this pine apart from other pines in eastern North America is their tendency to snap or break when bent.

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The bark of this tree is reddish-brown in color. On older trunks the bark becomes broken into wide flat-topped ridges separated by shallow grooves. This tree looks similar to the introduced Austrian Pine. However its reddish-brown bark helps to distinguish it.

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By the end of the first growing season, the green cones turn to tan in color. At maturity during the second season, the brown cones are about two inches long. The cone scales are smooth and without spines. The seeds are eaten by songbirds and small animals.

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During the Great Depression in the 1930s, millions Red Pines were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Most of the wooden telephone poles in Michigan and surrounding states are made of Red Pine.

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Red Pine is noteworthy for its very constant morphology and low genetic variation throughout its range, indicating it has been through a near extinction in its recent evolutionary history.

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Red Maple

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This tree located throughout all of Ohio (including in my backyard) and is found naturally in moist areas of open woodlands, especially along creeks and bottomlands where the soil is usually moist to wet. It is also a major component of the native habitat throughout its region. In urban areas it is a popular shade tree, noted for its brilliant red fall color.

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This species and the Silver Maple often are referred to as the “soft maples.” The wood is soft, not very strong and not durable. It is used for veneer and a variety of small products such as boxes and clothespins. It typically grows 40-60’ tall with a rounded to oval crown.

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Clusters of small red flowers bloom in March and April. Reddish, winged fruit called samaras or “keys” become brown and mature in May and June.

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Red maple is one of the most abundant species in temperate forests of eastern North America and has a wide north to south distribution. Because of this wide natural range, it is extremely variable in form. The leaves of southern forms tend to have only three lobes compared to five lobes on northern forms.

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This tree takes its common name from its reddish buds that swell in Spring, its red leaf petioles in Summer, and its brilliant red foliage in Fall. Red maple is one of the most recognized trees with some part of the plant red all season long.

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Osage Orange

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While hiking in Cool Creek Park in Carmel, Indiana, I saw several green “monkey brains” scattered on the forest floor.

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They came from an Osage Orange, which is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, that grows 30–50 feet tall. Their distinctive fruit is roughly spherical, bumpy, 3–6 inches in diameter and turns a bright yellow-green in the Fall.

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The fruit secretes a sticky white latex when cut or damaged. Despite the name “orange,” it is instead a member of the mulberry family.

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The trunk bark is brown to orange-brown and deeply furrowed with ridges. The glossy, lance-shaped leaves are arranged alternately and vary from dark to pale tender green. They have long, tapering tips and smooth to slightly wavy margins.

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“Back in the day” these sharp-thorned shrubs were planted as cattle-deterring hedges before the introduction of barbed wire and afterward became an important source of fence posts.

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This intriguing plant is also known as Hedge Apple, Horse Apple, Bodark, Bow-wood, Yellow-wood and Mock Orange.

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Toothache Tree

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This intriguing native plant is covered with thorns from its compound leaves right down to its twigs and bark.

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Because of its content, it has used throughout the world in medicine and folklore. It is most widely known in Louisiana for its use by both Indians and settlers, not only as a toothache remedy, but they also mixed the inner bark with bear grease and applied it to treat ulcers.

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Native Americans used this plant for a wide range of other ailments as well. Ripe berries were thrown in hot water to make a spray used to treat and throat for chest ailments. The inner bark was boiled in water to produce a lotion used to treat various itches.

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This tree’s berries have historically been considered tonic, stimulant, anti-rheumatic, and effective in relieving gas, colic, and muscle spasms.

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Modern herbalists specify the bark and berries of Toothache Tree as a treatment for rheumatism and as a stimulant for blood circulation.

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The conical to flattened bark projections are especially interesting, each with prominent layers of cork tipped with a sharp, delicate spine. Its large, compound leaves form a umbrella-shape at the tip of the poles.

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Toothache Tree has a number of common names, such as: Hercules’ Club, Southern Prickly Ash, Sea Ash, Pepperwood, Prickly Orange, Sting Tongue, Tear Blanket, Pillenterry, Prickly Yellow Wood, and Wait-a-bit.

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No matter what you call it, few woody plants have had such a varied and widespread use in American folklore.

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Tamarack

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This tree often goes by the alternative common name American Larch. It is the only deciduous conifer that is native to Ohio, and it strongly prefers moist to wet sites in acidic soils.

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Tamarack’s green needles turn a showy yellow in Fall before dropping to the ground as Winter approaches. This is a medium to large sized tree that usually grows to 40-60 feet tall with an open pyramidal shape and horizontal branching.

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Its slender green needles grow in brush-like clusters which appear at the ends of short spur-like shoots spaced along the branches.

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Tamarack produces tiny rounded cones up to 1 inch, that start off red and eventually mature to brown. The bark on mature trees is a scaly, reddish-brown.

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Tamaracks are very cold tolerant and able to survive temperatures down to at least -65 °C (-85 °F). They commonly occur at the Arctic treeline at the edge of the tundra. It is one of the northernmost occurring trees in North America, as well as the world.

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