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