Bur Oak: largest native acorns

In Texas the acorns may be the size of golf balls!

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Looking up through the bur oak

While the spelling of bur oak is sometimes burr oak, according to Sibley* it is also called a mossy-cup oak or blue oak. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center adds more names to this list, including Savanna oak, overcup oak, prairie oak, mossy-overcup oak. To add to the confusion, in certain terrains it can be referred to as scrub oak.  It would appear some of its names are related to the various habitats in which this species, Quercus macrocarpa, grows. Alternatively, it refers to the appearance of its acorns.

This white oak is native to much of the eastern and midwestern United States and Canada, although its characteristics vary depending on its location. According to Iowa State University, this tree has the most variable characteristics of any of the oaks. For example, its acorns are large in its southernmost growth area while they can be about a fifth the size in the northern regions.

The overall height of the tree also varies by its habitat. In northern climates it may only grow to half the size of the same species in southern latitudes.  This year saw a new national champion bur oak be honored in West Virginia. This specimen is a bit over 107 feet tall and has a trunk circumference of more than 278 inches. Models of climate change have predicted  bur oak may have an increase in its range, but the locations where it thrives may also shift. Due to its long taproot it may be able to withstand drought conditions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Its acorns can be the largest of the native oak species and are well fringed, hence its mossy-cup moniker. Its Latin name is related to the acorns; marco means large in Greek and carpa refers to fruit. One author states burr oak acorns in Texas are golf-ball sized! Iowas State University allows the trees do not bear fruit until they are 35 years old. Most sources state the trees can live 300 to 400 years. The university site also states the lumber of the tree can be used like white oak, but isn’t as valuable due to its many branches. The USDA mentions  the most valuable bur oak trees for lumber come from Iowa and Illinois where it is usually marketed generically as white oak.

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Bark of the bur oak

The trees provide food to 96 or more species of wildlife, including black bears. According to this article, acorns are the primary high quality food source for black bears in northeastern Minnesota. Cattle and other livestock may ingest seedlings and acorns even though this material may prove poisonous in large quantities. This same source specifically mentions the Cheyenne of Montana as having eaten a mixture of acorns and buffalo fat.

Like other trees in general, and other oaks in particular, parts of the bur oak have been used medicinally. A unique mention is made of tree galls used to treat intestinal problems and as an antiseptic.

The tagged Quercus macrocarpa in Fort Collins City Park was planted in 1979. It is located between the reservable shelter and the road to the golf course. Look for the electrical box painted with a black cat. If you point to the east at a diagonal from the box, you should be in line with the tree. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Trees, 2009.

Swedish Whitebeam-Don’t Let the Tag Fool You!

What do I know about the Swedish Whitebeam tree? It belongs to the genus Sorbus which is in the rose family. This large family of over 3000 species includes apples, cherries, plums, pears, and mountain ashes, as well as the flowers known as roses. Mountain ash trees are members of the same genus (Sorbus) as white beams and therein may lie some of my confusion in finding this speciman. I kept returning to the area on the tree map where this species was said to be located, but the unmarked trees in the area seemed to be true ashes and elms. The one unusual tree had leaves that were completely wrong. I thought I knew the smaller deciduous tree was an Oakleaf mountain ash as I’d read the tag the year before.

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The darker green Sorbus intermedia in forefront

As the name implies, the Swedish whitebeam is not native to North America. As it doesn’t appear on the USDA maps, it must not be considered significant in the United States, although Toronto mentions it on its parks pages. In Great Britain it is suggested as a street tree. One source suggests it can withstand harsh conditions, is hardy to zone 3, and grows on Shetland Island. It may also be a tree useful for birds and bees.

The wood of the whitebeam has been used for handles, wheels and cogs. According to a few sources, the berries have been used to make bread and jam or used similarly to raisins. They may also be distilled into spirits.

As mentioned above, some of the confusion in finding this tree may be related to some of its attributes. Whitebeam are related to mountain ash trees and rowans. Tree Names lists fifty species of whitebeam, but also mentions whitebeams and rowans naturally hybridize. Some authors hypothesize that Swedish whitebeam are a hybridization of mountain ash and two other species or are derived from the Finnish whitebeam. With all the mountain ash genes involved, it isn’t surprising the sign on the Swedish Whitebeam

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Swedish whitebeam with correct latin name on label.

displays Oakleaf Mountain Ash as a common name along with the latin name of Sorbus intermedia, or that of the Swedish Whitebeam. Seems like it just continues the confounding nature of the Sorbus genus!

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The leaves of the Swedish whitebeam looking very similar to that of the Oakleaf mountain ash.

And why the two trees are so easy to confuse:

 

The tree on the Fort Collins City Park Self-Guided Tree Tour was planted in 1994 with a 2″ diameter. Although they are supposed to have white flowers in Spring turning to red berries in fall, no berries were visible in late September. This tree may live to 134 years.

To locate tree D192 Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia), go to the southwest corner of the intersection of Sheldon and City Park Drives. This section is lined on the north and east by elms and ash trees with conifers making up the other boundaries. In the center are two conifers, the Engelmann Spruce and a Baker’s Blue Spruce.  Of the three deciduous trees, the Swedish whitebeam is the most southerly and smallest. It is also the only one with a visible tag.

 

The Shellbark Hickory; A Tough Nut to Crack

Hickory ice cream is delicious

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Hickory nut on the Shellbark hickory

The taxonomy for the hickory tree is a little nutty. Members of  the walnut family, Carya (hickories) represent about 25 species worldwide. Eleven are native to North America. Also a member of the walnut family, and of the same species as hickories, are the the trees which produce pecans.

The SHELLBARK Hickory (Carya laciniosa) is native to most of the eastern United States and Ontario. Like many other species, it has many alternate names including; big shellbark, bottom shellbark, kingnut, and thick shellbark.

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The compound leaves of the Shellbark hickory

Another moniker, bigleaf shagbark, may cause some confusion between the two types of hickory tree. Even though some say the flavor of the shellbark’s nut, with its difficult shell to crack, isn’t as good as that of the shagbark, a few plantations of shellbark trees have been established. The shellbark hickory can hybridize with pecans to produce a larger nut. It may crossbreed with shagbarks as well.

The wood of the shellbark, as with most hickories, is considered one of the hardest of the American native trees and is difficult to work as it tends to blunt edges. Because of the strength of the wood, it may be used to make chairs and rockers.  The lumber also has a high BTU output, making it desirable as firewood. It is also used for smoking meats, such as in this recipe for hickory smoked turkey. 

When in Portland, ME, I had the pleasure of eating a blueberry crumble with hickory ice cream at the Portland Harbor Hotel. I must admit while I was enjoying the very woody flavor I had no idea there was more than one kind of hickory tree. I include this recipe for hickory ice cream, which does call for shagbark chips, as well as one for hickory nut shortbread cookies.

Native peoples had numerous uses for the parts of the shellback tree, including the

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The shaggy bark of the shellbark hickory

innerbark for snowshoe rims and baskets and the wood for arrow shafts and blow darts. The shellbark hickory had numerous uses in traditional medicine including as an abortifacient, cold remedy, analgesic, an emetic, and a digestive system  aid. Other uses included gun stocks and tool handles. The species has also been used to produce dyes and make soap.

Due to the large and long taproot, the trees may be difficult to transplant. They are slow growing as well. The nuts are food for many small mammals as well as turkeys and deer. There are many husks on the ground near the specimen tree, but none are intact, verifying their use as squirrel food.

The champion tree, crowned in 2018, is 109′ tall and found in Virginia. Although the height of the tree may depend on environmental conditions, Carya laciniosa are said to usually be about 60′ to 80′ tall. The specimen in Fort Collin’s City Park was planted in 1991 and had a trunk diameter of 3.5″.

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The shellbark hickory

Find D198 Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa) along Sheldon Drive. The best way to describe where to find it is south of the intersection with City Park Drive. The tree is east of the shelter near the lake and almost directly west of the exercise station on the east side of Sheldon Drive. The nut husks are the give away as I don’t think this tree is labeled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carya laciniosa was used extensively by the Cherokee, according to Moerman (1998)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

Limber Pine—Branches Flexible Enough You can Tie them in Knots

The tree grows under conditions which may prove too harsh for other species.

Limber pine (Pinus flexilis) is another species which may be susceptible to damage from the pine beetle. Like most other trees, this species has a number of alternate names, including Rocky Mountain pine. This conifer is native to the western states as well as the two westernmost Canadian providences.

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Trunk of the limber pine

In Colorado, it is found from elevations of 5000′ to 12,000′.  It is also native to Utah where it is reported to grow from elevations of 4000′  to 11000′. Limber pine in North Dakota grow below 3000′. The groves of trees in North Dakota are thought to have arisen from seeds carried to the area by various Native Americans.

Limber pine survive stressors which may prove too harsh for other species. For instance, it is able to grow under dry conditions. The bendable property of its branches may allow it to survive in avalanche prone areas and this trait may help with slope stabilization as well as runoff control. Limber pines also have deep taproots, which help with resistance to wind. This species provide food for rodents and birds, such as the Clark’s Nutcracker. In turn the seeds are too large to be blown far by the wind; birds, then are a means of distribution. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although lumber from Pinus flexilis is of little commercial value today, in the past it was used in mines, as railroad ties, and as firewood. In herbal medicine the resin may be used like that of other pines—as an antiseptic and to help with respiratory conditions. The seeds can also serve as a food source for humans.

Limber pines are a long-lived species, which may not reach maturity until 200 years. (North American Trees, Preston and Braham.) Some of the oldest trees may be well over 1500 years. Even though some members of this species grow on windy ridges causing  twisting and stunting, others may approach sixty feet in height.

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Leaves of the limber pine

Pinus flexilis belongs to the the group of pines with their needles in bundles of five. These leaves grow to be between 2.5 and 3.5 inches in length. The female cones are green prior to maturity and may grow as long as seven inches.

Like many conifers of the mountain west, the limber pine may be affected by climate change and damage by various pests, including mountain pine beetles; a fungus which causes white pine blister rust; and drawf mistletoe. The fungus spread from Asia to Europe in the 1860s. It made its appearance in Wyoming on limber pines in 1970 and by the late 1990s was found in Colorado as well.

To find the tagged LIMBER PINE (Pinus flexilis) in the arboretum, C182, start near the SE corner of Sheldon Drive and City Park. A row of trees, including ashes and conifers, runs more or less parallel to City Park Drive. The limber pine is in the middle of a small cluster of conifers. In the middle of an open area is a park bench which is west of this small grove of trees. Another landmark might be the exercise station near this same corner. You could walk from there along the row of trees to find the pine. 

This specimen was planted in 1981 when it had a diameter of 8″. In the flesh it does not appear quite as scraggly as it does in the winter photo.