Pitch Pine

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This interesting tree is found in environments which other species find unsuitable for growth, such as acidic, sandy and low nutrient soils. It is known as a “pioneer species,” since it is often the first tree to vegetate an area after it has been cleared away.

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Pitch Pine has an exceptionally high regenerative ability; if the main trunk is cut or damaged by fire, it can re-sprout using epicormic shoots.

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This is a rapid-growing tree when young, gaining around one foot of height per year under optimal conditions until the tree is 50 – 60 years old, whereupon growth slows.

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Pitch Pine trunks are usually mostly straight with a slight curve to them. They are covered in irregular, thick, large plates of bark. Its globular form of twisting, gnarled, drooping branches does a poor job at self-pruning.

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This is one of the most fire resilient eastern conifers. Its adaptations allow for survival in a high frequency fire area such as the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.

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High resin content in this species produced the name “Pitch Pine.” Early American settlers would often ignite pine knots for torches. Because of its high resin content, its decay-resistant wood was once popular for ship building, mine props, railroad ties and fencing.

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Today Pitch Pine Pitch is an important food source for wildlife. Sprouts and seedlings serve as browse for White-tail Deer, Cottontail Rabbits and Meadow Mice. Its seeds are eaten by Red Squirrels and a wide range of birds.

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Eastern Cottonwood

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This is a large, fast-growing tree found growing along streams, rivers and lowland areas. It is what is known as a “classic floodplains tree.” I have one growing next to the creek in my backyard.

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The genus of its Latin name, Populus deltoides indicates that it is a type of Poplar Tree. The species, deltoides, refers to its triangle-shaped leaves.

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Eastern Cottonwood is almost as massive as a Sycamore in regard to its trunk and broad-spreading canopy. It commonly reaches 80 feet tall by 60 feet wide, but can be much larger.

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The flat leaf stems cause its leaves flutter in the slightest breeze, often looking like a hand waving back and forth, as do the leaves of most Poplars.

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In late Spring and early Summer, I get “snow in June” when the fruit capsules open to release their small seeds attached to many cotton-like strands. It is the continuous release of these fluffy seeds for 2-3 weeks that results in the tree’s common name.

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These trees develop very deep fissures in their bark. Mature Eastern Cottonwood bark is among the thickest of all trees in North America.

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Eastern Cottonwoods have many unique characteristics that make them worth checking out.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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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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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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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