It wasn’t until my twenties when I started wearing glasses on a regular basis that I realized trees weren’t green blurs, and most people could distinguish individual leaves. Soon after I noticed trunks in all their artistic contortions, various types of bark and burls. Later I tried my hand at marquetry and became enamored of the grains and patterns in wood.
Earlier this month, I joined a short class, All About Trees, taught by local naturalist Kevin Cook. He handed out the list of trees in our city’s City Park. I live near this park. A few years ago, I noticed tags started appearing on various trees. Through reading the tags and utilizing the map the Forestry Department provides, I started to learn the species of trees, some with wonderful names. Currently I know where many of my favorites are located–the championship larch, some old redbuds, a Siberian Larch, crabapples, and weeping mulberries.
I liked the challenge of finding and learning more about each of the trees listed in the Self-Guided Tree Tour and thought my husband’s renewed interest in photography would make for an interesting project to tackle together. My plan is to highlight two or more trees per week until we’ve covered as many of the 220+ we are able to locate. Along with pictures of the trees during the season we’re doing the initial writeup, I hope to go back and add photos for the trees during other seasons.
My hope is this blog will be useful to others who are interested in trees in general and those in City Park in particular.
Another deciduous tree native to the eastern half of the US and Canada,Liriodendron tulipifera is a tall, relatively fast growing tree, which may grow to 90-120′. The same source (North American Trees, Preston and Braham ) says it matures in 200-250 years! Sometimes it is called a Yellow Poplar, although it is in the magnolia family.
I first found a leaf, the shape of which I couldn’t identify. It had drifted near the Kentucky Coffeetree but didn’t come from any of the other trees nearby. It took me awhile to find the matching tree behind a number of conifers along City Park Drive. It took even longer to figure out the name of the tree as it is sometimes difficult to match the identified dots on the map with trees, which may be unmarked or have a difficult tag to locate. The branches of the Tulip Tree are far above my head, a trait the USDA states is typical. Another identifying feature is the straightness of the trunk. North American Trees says this is one of the tallest and widest trees in the east.
On the Wood Database site, the lumber for this tree is listed under Yellow Poplar, although its latin name, Liriodendron tulipfera, identifies it as the correct tree. The wood from these trees has been used for berry buckets and canoes, as well as lumber. It also makes good kindling for a fire. Although the wood’s utility as kindling would seem to contradict it, logs have been used to build cabins and the bark was used for roofing. North American Trees suggests the wood may also be made into coffins. Others have used the bark to produce rope. Although one source says the flower buds taste like turpentine, squirrels apparently are partial to them.
Over the years this tree had a number of medicinal uses. As with many trees, a powder made of the bark had been used for “digestive problems” as well as arthritis. Leaves and buds have been used as poultices on burns and for other skin ailments. One of the most interesting uses of the tree bark was as an aphrodisiac either chewed or brewed into a bitter tea. Another helpful use of the bark was as a substitute for quinine, used to treat malaria. At least one contemporary author wondered how a Tulip Tree and Tonic would taste!
Most resources do not mention this tree as a good source of food, although this video suggests there is a treat hidden in the flowers. Although I walk past this specimen many times a week, I can’t say I ever noticed the spring flowers. This might be because the first branches are far above my head. I am not likely to be able to grab a branch to sip the nectar as the woman in the short video does!
LOCATION. The Tulip Tree is B113 on the Arboretum map. I wasn’t able to find the tag on the tree. The easiest way to locate the tree is probably by finding a leaf under it, as well as viewing the photo below. This tree is slightly south and west of the redbud. You might enter the park through the stone entry and walk the wrong down the one-way street. The street curb can be
seen in the photo above. From the entry, this may be the closest large tree to the road on the North side.
The Tree’s name comes from the clusters of flowers, which resemble puffs of purple smoke.
I had never heard of the Purple Smoke Tree. It is listed as one of the more unusual trees in the park. We didn’t take the map with us, as I thought I knew where it was located–behind the Maintenance Shop, not far from Shelter #8. Memory–or the map–was deceiving because we couldn’t find the tree!
What is shown as the Maintenance Shop on the drawing happens to also be the Parks Office. Luckily it was before five, so I asked after the tree at the front desk. Megan knew where it was and was nice enough to show me. With its bushiness, you might have to spend a bit of time locating the tag! Apparently this tree has been introduced to the North American continent.
As you can imagine, the tree wasn’t at its prime this late in the year. The tree’s name comes from the clusters of flowers, which are said to resemble puffs of purple smoke. Even in the fall, some of the stalk clusters still have a purple tinge.
The green leaves had a sheen and felt tough, like thin leather. Other leaves had a purplish cast.
Unlike other trees reviewed so far, this one doesn’t have many uses other than as an ornamental. The tree produces a yellow dye and the wood has been used for fenceposts. (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 2002)
LOCATION To find E3 Purple Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggyrria) go to the most southwest area of the park, across from Sheldon Lake. Locate the fire station on N. Bryan Ave. There is an alley on the south side and you can walk or drive down this. The tree is then on the southeast corner of front lawn of the Parks building. You can also access this tree by taking the road to the Golf Shop. Turn between the fire station and Parks Building. The specimen is in the far corner of the lawn.
Who knew the Redbud is both beautiful and edible, too?
Ceres canadensis, the Eastern Redbud, is not native to Colorado. The native distribution is, as you probably guessed, the eastern half of the continent. As this map shows one of the western boundaries to be Nebraska, it might not be surprising that the many trees planted in Fort Collins appear to be hardy if planted in an appropriate spot. In spring the twigs and branches are covered with small red buds without any leaves. The buds then flower with petals colored from red to fuchsia. Some mentions of lavender are also made. When leaves appear, they are heart-shaped. The twists and turns of the branches give the Redbud a distinctly spreading, artistic form. An alternate name for the tree is The Judas Tree.
Redbuds, like the Soapberry and the Kentucky Coffeetree, are in the pea family. Similarly to the Soapberry, saponins are mentioned when discussing the ediblity of parts of the Redbud. Most sources do not suggest any parts are poisonous. Surprisingly, websites mention the buds and flowers can be used in salads or even added to cupcakes! There are a number of videos on youtube about using the flowers and other parts of the tree as food. Another idea is pickling the buds to end up with a product similar to a caper. The fresh seed pods may also be edible. Other uses for this understory tree include using the red roots for a dye. The bark can be used to make an astringent tea for medicinal purposes. Native Americans were reported to use a tea of the bark as a whooping cough cure. The roots, too, were used to concoct cures for various ailments according the the USDA’s webpage.
Although spectacular as the earliest blooming tree in spring, the redbud has visual interest throughout the year. We’ll plan to add some photos of seasonal interest. I also hope to report on the taste of the flowers and buds next spring. Luckily, I have a small example of this tree in my yard. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be much of a bloomer, producing but a few buds and flowers each year.
The tagged tree is E117 on the Self-Guided Tour list.
The trunk of this specimen is split with a fungus growing up the gash in the tree. To find it, start at the corner of Jackson and Oak. You could park in the fourth or fifth parking slot on Oak and walk south toward the diagonal road a few yards. It is the largest of the smaller understory trees in that corner of the park. The split trunk is east facing.
Although this is the only identified Redbud on the map, there are others in the park. It took quite a bit of staring at the map for me to figure out that the Redbuds seen at the top of the page are not the identified tree. The one featured blooming in the photo above is very close to the stone wall. The tagged tree is bit southwest and is a much larger version.
If you were to walk along City Park Drive (the one-way diagonal road running east-west) to the intersection of Sheldon Drive, you would encounter two other large older redbuds and their spreading branches. These have long been two of my favorite trees in the park.
We often have stubby pods littering our sidewalk. I thought they grew on a neighbor’s tree, but apparently they originate from the Kentucky Coffeetree. This tree is practically straight across the street from my house yet, I never really noticed it until I started this blog. The specimen in the park is tall so some details are difficult to discern from the ground.
When studying the tree this afternoon, I noticed a cluster of green pods. When I checked the ground, there were a few brown pods directly under the tree. Apparently they fall in the spring and these are leftovers. Cracking open the leathery skin, the first thing I noticed was how sticky they are. The round seeds, about the size of a dime, are contained in white and green pulp that looks like an insect cocoon. Not only is the pulp sticky, the seeds are as well.
There are a number of stories about how the tree got its name related to a use for the seeds. Basically, they involve someone brewing the seeds to make a drink similar to coffee. Some say Native Americans made a brew but didn’t call it coffee. Others suggest settlers copied the Native Americans and called it coffee, while others say the practice became popular after the Civil War. There are debates on the web about the taste. Some say it is awful, others prefer it to coffee. Everyone stresses that unless roasted, the seeds, as well as other parts of the tree, are poisonous. Because these trees are not plentiful in Colorado, it is unlikely that anyone locally would be able to collect enough of the pods to actually use to make a beverage. The cleaning and roasting needed is enough to discourage me from trying with my two pods.
The USDA also mentions that there are reports that the tree can be poisonous to cows and other animals. Native Americans may have used the pods to stun fish so they were easier to catch by hand. Most medicinal uses involve laxatives with the caution that the tree, like the Soapberry from the previous post, contains saponins and may have been used to make soap as well.
A far better use of the tree–although NOT of the tree in the park!–might be for lumber. For a picture of the heartwood and information about the lumber, see The Wood Database. The wood is rated as a good firewood. Fenceposts made from the trees are long-lasting. Possibly these uses of the tree have contributed to it becoming more rare.
The deciduous tree is usually 60-75 feet tall at maturity, but a championship tree has been measured at 120′ tall. It has bi-pinnated compound leaves which are said to be the largest of any native tree. (I think I need to measure it against a Catalpa leaf!)
Most sources say these leaves turn yellow and drop early in the fall. This is hard to determine at the moment as very few of the leaves in the park have even started to turn as of October 2nd. One of the twenty or so alternate names for this tree is dead tree, possibly due to the fact that the tree can remain without buds or foliage for up to six months, with only clusters of seed pods clacking in the wind. Again, this tree is right across the street from my house and I never noticed its fall color or its late onset of new leaves. I certainly will be on the lookout now!
From the USDA distribution map, it looks like this tree could once be found in most of the eastern half of the US and Canada. Kansas is the westernmost border. Other maps show this member of the pea family as being less common than the USDA map indicates, possibly due to loss of habitat and minimal use as an ornamental.
Location: The Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is B110 on the Self-Guided Tree Tour. As can be seen from the photo above, it is possible to park right in front of it. It is on the northern edge of the park, along Oak Street. At the corner of Jackson and Oak, head west and stop across from the fourth house on the opposite side of the street.
I took my dog out in search of the first tree that caught my eye, the Soapberry. Even though I’ve used soap nuts for laundry, I’d never heard of this tree or at least I never thought one would grow in our climate. Apparently the Sapindus Mukorossi is the variety used to grow the commercial nuts. These trees grow in India, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
According to the USDA the variety found in City Park, Sapindus drummondii, is native to a number of states including Colorado. The tree produces green berries which grow in a straight line, turn bright red, and then a wrinkly reddish brown.
Information on uses for the seeds is scarce and conflicting as the European charity Plants for a Future says the seeds and fruit are poisonous while other sites list some medicinal uses. Trade Winds Fruit suggests you can use the fruit and seed together to produce a soap substitute. One blog included a recipe for making a cleaning solution, although the berries used may have come from a different tree in the Sapindaceae family. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center calls Sapindus drummondii Western Soapberry as well as other names such as chinaberry. I collected a small number of these seeds and when they are dried, I will attempt to make a soap and report back on how it turned out.
While Charles Kane’s Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest and some Native American websites discuss the medicinal uses of the tree, it should be noted that the berries contain saponins and these are generally listed as a toxin. Many of the plants included in Poisonous and Psychoactive Plants by Jim Meuninck include saponins as part of their chemical makeup. Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West does not list any uses for the Soapberry tree. For these reasons, it would be prudent to stick to making liquid soap or jewelry from the berries!
LOCATION. The specimen in City Park is near the Eastern edge of the ballpark parking lot, on the south side of the entrance. To find it, drive west on Oak Street. At the intersection of Bryan and Oak, keep going west across the stone bridge and the tree as on the South side of the small peninsula of grass. It is E51on the map and listing in the City Park Arboretum list.