The Possumhaw—Neglected and Inconspicuous?

None of the six tree books I consulted even mentioned this native tree

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Berries and leaves on the Possumhaw

The possumhaw is in the genus Ilex, which consists of over 400 species of holly, some of which are evergreen and many of which are associated with Christmas. Alas, this neglected and oddly name shrub or small tree is not one of those with a legendary past. One source suggests its name comes from opossums feasting on its berries.

Most of the year, except for its shiny leaves, it is barely noticeable. It is, though, native to North America, growing mostly in southern states. The national champion tree is found in North Carolina and is but forty-two feet in height with a trunk of three feet in circumference.

One thing this humble plant does seem to have is a plethora of names and spellings—Possumhaw, Possum-haw, Possumhaw holly, swamp holly, meadow holly, prairie holly, winterberry, bearberry, welk holly, deciduous yaupon, deciduous holly—the last two names because, unlike the more famous hollies of holiday fame, this tree is not evergreen. No mention is made of uses for this shrub’s wood. Apparently it has no known medicinal value nor is it edible to humans.

Why then would you want to grow this? Birds and small mammals eat the berries in the winter. It may be a host to a species of butterfly as well as bees and other nectar insects. And the berries are delightful in winter, providing color to a bleak landscape.

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Possumhaw berries in winter

If you are looking for E61 Possumhaw (Ilex decidua Grace) on the City Park Tree Tour in winter, it should be easy to spot in the enclosure across from the pool, near the miniature train station. Of course it is located in the same spot the rest of the year, but you may need to look more closely to find it!

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Possumhaw across from the City Park pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greek gods, chocolate, and political campaigns: the Ohio Buckeye

Lumber from the tree was crafted into prosthetic limbs.

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Ohio Buckeye

When you look at the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra), it isn’t surprising that it is in the same family as the horse chestnut tree. Along with the maples and soapberries, buckeyes are members of the order Sapindales. The genus of the tree, Aesculus, is derived from the name of the Greek god of medicine.

Not surprisingly, the Ohio Buckeye is the state tree of Ohio (designated in 1953) and the symbol of Ohio State University.  Despite its name, it is also native to many of the eastern states and Texas. The current champion tree can be found in Kentucky. It may be one of the few trees associated with a political campaign, that of William Henry Harrison in 1840. Buckeyes were also one of twenty-one species under contention to be the National Tree but lost to the oaks.

The “nuts” of the buckeye are poisonous when eaten raw but are edible once the tannins are leeched out or the nuts are roasted.  When boiling the nuts, the resultant tannins can be used to tan leather.

powder made of the buckeyes was also used by Native Americans to stun fish in ponds. If the above makes the idea of eating the nuts sound less than pleasant, there are also medicinal uses, such as using the powder in a salve for rashes and sores. The buckeye may have also been used for cerebral spinal treatments. A tea made from the bark may also help varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Lumber from the tree was put to another unusual medical use as it was crafted into prosthetic limbs!

Even though the fruit of the tree may not be something you want to eat, there is a candy called buckeyes. Basically they are a peanut butter ball dipped in chocolate.

To locate A86 Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabraon the City Park Tree Tour, park along City Park Drive near the pool The Buckeye is in a line of trees between the two playgrounds. It is the largest of the trees and two in from the street.

Do Persimmon Trees Have Seeds that Predict the Coming Winter?

Persimmon seeds may have been used as buttons in the Civil War.

 

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The bark of the persimmon tree looks as if it was made of building blocks.

The Ebony family (Ebenacea) consists of two genera, Euclea and Diospyros. The family contains between 400 and 500 species worldwide. The former genus contains ebony trees while Diospyros is made up of persimmons. Only two species of permisson are native to North American, the Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) and the common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana.)

The common persimmon is found in about 3/5 of the lower 48. According to USDA publications, it grows in humid areas including the Mississippi River Valley, Long Island, and South Atlantic and Gulf states. For commercial development this same source recommends planting in areas that receive 48″ of precipitation.

This is a flowering tree. The flowers of the male and female are distinctive, with white-green male flowers in clusters. Female flowers are singular and more yellowy. The sex lives of these trees may be very involved as normally individual trees are either male or female. Occasionally male flowers appear on female trees and sometimes the flowers can self-pollinate.

Although occasionally referred to as white ebony, the uses of persimmon lumber are limited at least in part because of the small size of the tree. At one time golf club heads were made of this wood; according to Woodworking Network this is now more of a novelty. Due to its strength, persimmon wood has also been used for textile shuttles. Other uses include drumsticks. The wood can be turned and shaped with very sharp instruments.

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Persimmon leaves

The genus name Diospyros means fruit of the gods. Persimmons produce an edible fruit that is astringent when not fully ripe but becomes sweet after a frost (Sibley Guide to Trees, 2009.) A writeup from the University of Vermont reports the fruit increases antioxidant activity, is an anti-inflammatory, and helps prevent atherosclerosis. It is also reported to be high in vitamin C and calcium. Often the fruit, which is technically a berry, is dried, made into puddings, pies, jellies, cookies and even used to brew beer or make wine. This website has a recipe for beer from wild persimmons. The Old Farmers Almanac includes a recipe for persimmon bread as well.

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Leaves are oval and glossy,

Parts other than the fruit and lumber also have uses. The bark has been used in various forms to treat thrush, hemorrhaging, diphtheria, and even gonorrhea. The leaves may be made into a tea with purported health benefits. A newspaper article on the history of persimmons in the south mentions the seeds were used as buttons during the Civil War, while a second source says during that same war the seeds were ground up and used as a coffee substitute.

An unusual bit of folklore related to persimmon seeds is they may be able to predict weather! Again, the Farmers Almanac gives directions on how to use a split open seed to predict the coming winter.

The tagged Diospyros virginiana in City Park is a little more difficult to locate than other trees. To find it go to the western edge of the ball diamonds. It is near the southern tip of the northern field and is just outside the park boundaries in the golf course. Its unusual bark makes it easy to recognize. The National Champion Common Persimmon in Suffolk City, Va has a much larger circumference at 152 inches!

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As can be seen in this photo, it is one of the smaller trees in this area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catalpa—the Fish Bait Tree

Some consider the long seed pods and large leaves of this tree to be messy

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Flower from a Northern Catalpa

The genus Catalpa contains ten or eleven (North American Trees, 5th Edition) different species of trees. The Chinese variety, Catalpa ovata, which is on the City Park tree tour, is a native of China but has been introduced in the eastern part of North America.

Two species are native to this continent, Catalpa Speciosa and the southern version, Catalpa bignonioides Walt. Even though neither of the other species is tagged in the park, I am going to discuss them because catalpas are one of my favorites. The trees look very similar with their large leaves and long bean-like seed pods. Each also has clusters of flowers, with the native trees blooming earlier with larger blossoms than the Chinese variety.

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Developing leaf of the catalpa.

The Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa) is native to all but eight western states and Florida and has been introduced into Ontario. The Northern Catalpa is the largest of the three trees, normally growing to 60′. The National Champion tree in Indiana is 78′ and  with a 81′ crown spread. C. bignonioides, the southern catalpa, has a range which overlaps that of the northern. It can be found in most of the states where the larger tree doesn’t grow as well as in North Dakota. Although the Southern catalpa is normally only 30-40′ in height (The Tree Book, Dirr and Warren, 2019) the champion tree listed in 2017 is not much smaller than its northern counterpart (75′ x 82′).

The moniker fish-bait tree technically applies to the southern variety of this tree, but the catalpa doesn’t want for other names. They include the cigar-tree, Catawba, Indian-bean tree, caterpillar tree, and Western Catalpa, with the Northern and Southern species sometimes sharing the same alternate name.

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The developing leaves of the Chinese Catalpa with a few of the seed pods from last year

The wood of the northern tree has been used as railroad ties, trim carpentry, telephone poles, fences, and furniture. The southern catalpa wood has been used for similar purposes, but its most interesting use is in plantations where it is grown to attract the the catalpa sphinx moth, which is used for fish bait! (The Tree Book, Dirr and Warren, 2019).

Bark from C. Bignonioides has been used to treat malaria. Other parts of the plant have been used for medical reasons, including the roots, although the current writeup from the USDA includes a warning in red that the roots of this plant are poisonous!  Plants for the Future rates only the Chinese Catalpa as having possible edibility. The USDA does warn that the native trees may be invasive and weedy. Many people complain that the seed pods are messy and many don’t like the large leaves. My feeling is that the larger leaves make them easier to pick up! Even the New York Times took up the case of the catalpa with the story of its spread in the 19th century.

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Bark of the Chinese catalpa

The Chinese Catalpa is smaller than the native trees. An  additional use of its wood is in the making of a traditional Chinese instrument, the Qin.

The Chinese catalpa C 175 in the City Park Arboretum is along Sheldon Drive, just south of the Indian Magic Crabapple on the eastern side of the road, catty corner from the latrine on the west side of the road. The catalpa trees in town seem to leaf out and flower late in the season, so much so that if you own one, you start to worry it has died, yet the Chinese catalpa is even later. It looks quite scraggly even this late in June this year.

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The Chinese catalpa in mid June

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Check Up on the Blog

Some of the trees of City Park in early spring.

Spring appears to be late in the park this year. The redbuds have flowers but are far from spectacular. The crabapples have transitioned to leaves. The few left with blooms look drab in the overcast weather. Trees which were only budding a few weeks ago are fully leafed out. Some are yet to flower and a few have not yet filled out.

At this point I’ve highlighted 98 of the 200+ trees on the park tour. Below are a few spring photos of trees I covered earlier, plus a few interesting ones I’ve yet to do.

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Gingko leaves emerging.

The column about this tree can be found here: https://whattreewhere.com/2017/10/30/gingko-tree-most-unique-tree-in-the-world

Although the weeping mulberry is not yet fully leafed out, it does now look more like it did when I wrote about it: https://whattreewhere.com/2017/10/24/the-r2d2-prototype-weeping-mulberry-trees/. On another note, I didn’t see any fruit from this tree in the fall.

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Bud on the weeping mulberry

The buds of the horse chestnuts are extremely sticky! I did mention this in my post last year but apparently I forgot and got my hands very sappy. My report on this tree was just about this time last year. Although it does have cones of flowers on it now, it does not appear to be very showy. https://whattreewhere.com/2018/05/27/the-tree-the-british-play-with-horsechestnut/

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Sticky horse chestnut bud

The write up on hawthorn trees can be located here: https://whattreewhere.com/2018/10/15/hawthorn-trees-supernatural-powers-and-an-unassuming-champion. Here are two of them this spring. Some may still be blooming.

Usually it seems as if the Siberian Larch is one of the first trees in the park to gain its new leaves, but this year it took forever. These needles, or leaves, are very soft. Apparently I have only written about our championship European larch (https://whattreewhere.com/tag/larch-in-mythology/) but the new needles on it are much too high to touch.

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The newly emerged leaves, or needles on the Siberian larch.

Trees yet to be featured in this blog also made their spring appearance. Below are three early appearances of various oaks.

 

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Prestige linden buds against the blue sky
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European Beech bud

Ussurian Pear: the Most Cold Hardy of Pear Trees

This pear is hardy to USDA Zone 3!

Like all pears, cherries, apples, and hawthorns, the Ussurian Pear is a member of the Rosaceae or rose family.

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The flowers of the Ussurian pear tree. These were one of the first trees to bloom in the park

The tree, also known as the Harbin pear or Chinese pear, is native to China, Japan, Korea, and the Ussuri river area, which forms a border between Russia and Manchuria. It is the most cold-hardy of the thirty or so pear species and will grow in USDA zone 3.

The seeds for the tree were brought to the United States in 1926 by a professor from South Dakota who gathered them near Harbin China. This date is disputed by the Morton Arboretum, which states their tree was planted in 1922. The pome of this species is said to be small, hard and not particularly delicious although it might improve in flavor after a frost. The amount of sugar the fruit contains varies widely between varieties.

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Early buds on the Ussurian pear tree

Some sources suggest it might be used for jellies. Although this website lumps the Harbin pear in with other Asian pears, it says the fruit may also have a tenderizing agent, making it good for marinades. In a chat group, another respondent suggested it might be worth trying to make a perry from the fruit.

In any case, the trees take up to eight years to produce fruit (pomes) and may live up to 300 years. The fruit is eaten by small mammals and birds. In the landscape the trees are used as a windbreak or as a specimen tree. Like most pears, Ussurian pears contain a compound that has antibacterial properties and may also serve as a flea and tick deterrent. 

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Ussurian pear tree still sporting snow bumpers

The Ussurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) in City park was planted in 1993 and had a trunk diameter of 3.5″. To find this tree: if you start at the intersection of Sheldon Drive and City Park and walk from the South East corner in a straight line south and east from the point of the intersection, you would find the tree between the the two playing fields. 

 

 

 

Is Your Brain Better than a Bark Beetle’s? Are You Able to distinguish the Jeffrey Pine from a Ponderosa?

The Jeffrey pine was named after a Scottish botanist in 1852

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Jeffrey pine planted in 1996

Jeffrey pines (Pinus jeffreyi) are native to Nevada, California, and Oregon. Ponderosa and Jeffrey pine are easily confused and their lumber is often bundled with that of lodgepole pine and sold as PP/LP. Although first regarded as the same species as Ponderosa pine, they vary genetically. The tree was named after the Scottish botanist John Jeffrey in 1852. Apparently Mr. Jeffrey disappeared without a trace while searching for plants.

Two ways to distinguish the two species is by bark color and smell. Ponderosas are said to have an orange tinge while the bark of the Jeffrey is reddish. Some  say Ponderosas smell like pine while its look-alike has an odor described as vanilla, pineapple, or butterscotch!

Another way to tell Jeffrey and Ponderosa apart is by the size of the cone, with Jeffrey cones usually larger. Plants of Southern California (Strong, Tom and Chester, Jane) include several charts for comparison, as well as this thought: If bark beetles, with brains smaller than your thumbnail, can tell the difference between ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, with a little attention humans ought to be able to do the same. (:-) Numerous sites warn of a dangerous difference between the two conifers. The resin of most pine trees can be used to make turpentine. Alike other conifers,  Jeffrey pines contain an explosive chemical, n-heptane. Before the two trees were known to be separate species, the use of Jeffrey pine ended up causing inexplicable explosions. 

 

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The long needles of the Jeffrey pine.

 

The Gymnosperm Database lists a Jeffrey pine in California as being at least 813 years old. The tallest tree, found in Dec. 2010 in the Trinity Alps of California, is over 206 feet tall. The second tallest Pinus jeffreyi is also located in California.

Jeffrey pines produce winged seeds. The seeds are heavy, and although wind does move them, it usually isn’t far from the parent tree. Chipmunks and Clarks Nutcrackers also disperse the seeds. The US Forest Service reported a small study of the chipmunks. These little critters on average carried up to 29 seeds in their cheek pouches. This same site reported cones might not be produced by the species until trees are twenty years old.

The Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) specimen tagged in City Park was planted in 1996 with a trunk diameter of 5″. We were not able to locate any pinecones to photograph. This bud from April, though, is of interest.

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Bud of a Jeffrey pine

To find the tagged Jeffrey pine on the tree tour, start at the SE corner of the park. If you walk straight across Jackson from Magnolia, you will head in the correct direction. You might first encounter the alligator juniper tree, which is East of a group of taller pines. One of these is the Jeffrey pine C153.