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.

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

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.