Hopefully, you are still on track to cure yourself of Tree Blindness, and I’m here to give you a booster shot for it plus some antibiotics in the form of some non-tree plants and some more fun facts about the species we are going to discuss here. Now this doesn’t replace a healthy lifestyle of going out and discovering these plants on your own, but it will hopefully give you a little immune system boost to help your body resist that pesky Tree Blindness.
Growing up I was fortunate enough to have some family property that had several patches of woodland on and around it so I was vaccinated pretty early in my life against Tree Blindness, I would like to share with you today some of those trees and plants from childhood in hopes that they will help you as much or more than they did me. Let’s begin our journey by exploring what part of Ohio we will be touring today. As you can see from the map showing Columbus, Centerburg Ohio is a small village to the northeast of Columbus. It is located in the southwestern arm of Knox County and the only real reason it shows up on a map is that it is the geographical center of Ohio, or at least they claim to be, I don’t feel like disproving them, but you feel free to. As can be seen on the map showing Centerburg proper and some of the surrounding area it is easy to see that it is a rather rural portion of the state with lots of woodlands mixed in with a bunch of fields. It was these woodlands amongst the fields that inoculated me to Tree Blindness and helped me develop a life long love of the outdoors and nature.
This is where I spent most of my free time growing up, it is a field my family has and as you can see there are 3 separate woodland areas along with the field. I loved going here as a child and still do, although it seems much smaller than when I was a kid. There are some unique features in each woodland which makes them different from one another. The left wooded area has a small stream that runs through it and as such there are species of trees and plants that can be found there but not in the other two places due to them being a little higher uphill than the stream. That being said the right woodland has a low spot that runs almost the full length of the bottom section of it that is a marshy area due to constantly flooding when it rains and during the spring when the snow melts. This provides a unique little ecosystem to the plants that grow there unlike the rest of the area. Then there is the top woodland area which has a pond as can be roughly seen in the photo but otherwise sits on a hill and is relatively dry except right at the pond. There is also a waterway to drain the fields which bisects the field from northeast to southwest and runs into the stream you can see coming out of the bottom of the left woodland. This is an excellent place to find flowers and plants that enjoy an open moist environment that is well drained and has ample sunlight. With such diversity of ecosystems there is a good diversity of trees, shrubs, vines, and plants that grow here and I am excited to share some of them with you so let’s begin.
With trees such as these, I have no more needs.
Up first we have the mighty American beech tree Fagus grandifolia, the first thing most people notice about this tree is the bark. Bark is supposed to be rough and cracked looking right? Well the beech tree missed class that day and didn’t get the notes that it how bark should look on a tree, as such beech trees have this smooth light gray bark that is very noticeable. It’s leaves grow in a simple, alternating fashion and look like a egg that wants to be left alone due to the serrations along the edges. American beech trees are commonly found in wetter environments, but not swampy areas, so think areas near bodies of water and rivers and streams. While these trees may not be the best for timber they are useful for lower end furniture, and are commonly used to make shoe lasts, which are what is used to form a shoe in the shoe making process as it is basically a wooden foot.
This magnificent tree is a black walnut, Juglans nigra, which is a very cool tree as it has the ability to make the soil around it unsuitable for other plants thereby eliminating competition for resources in the immediate vicinity. This tree can be easily identified via the fruits it has which look almost like small tennis balls, much less bouncy though. Black walnuts also have alternating compound leaves made up of 7 or more toothed leaflets, and typically have no leaflet on the end, these leaflets tend to have a spicy scent when crushed and have a slight hairiness to their underbelly. This tree is, unlike the American beech sorry bud, highly sought after by furniture makers as well as gun stock manufacturers due to the durability of the wood but also it’s ease of shaping.
I thought this was about trees?
While up to this point there has been a large emphasis put on trees, they are not the only important green things out there in the world there’s also all the wonderful shrubs, vines, and flowers that are just as important as those big burly trees. So let’s take some time to explore some of the more delicate and easily overlooked plants that are out there.
First up is this vine growing on what type of tree is that, correct an American beech, but we are talking about the vine not the tree here. So this vine is called riverbank grapevine, Vitus riparia, this vine grows, as it’s name suggests, along rivers and streams. This is pretty easy to identify as a wild grapevine due to the leaves but it can sometimes be more difficult to narrow it down from there. Sadly I was not able to get a good photo of the leaves of this particular specimen due to them being high above mixed in with the trees leaves, so instead I will show the image used in the Trees and Shrubs Peterson field guide that I carry with me.
Riverbank grapevine is a very useful plant in the survival aspect as the bark of the vines tends to be rather shaggy and peels off easy. It is similar to coconut husk in that it is very fibrous, and if dry makes wonderful kindling for starting a campfire so you can roast some hot dogs and marsh mellows.
You’ve heard of Old Spice and the Spice Girls, well this is Spice bush, Lindera benzoin, it has alternate leaves with a dark green on top and a lighter green on the bottom. As you can see they appear to be an oval with a tail on them, and if you crush the leaves, berries, or even just lightly scratch the bark on the stems, you will be able to tell where this plant gets its name from. It has some nice bright red berries when they are ripe that are easy to notice as well.
As previously stated you can crush the leaves and berries to release a pleasant spicy aroma, and can even use the leaves and some stems to make an aromatic tea, although I can’t say it will be the best given never trying it myself. These bushes like moist shady locations to grow in and they grow relatively fast, if not very tall ending up being between 6 and 12 feet tall when full grown.
This very bright plant is appropriately named common Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis to be precise, it is one of many different varieties of Goldenrod. It can be found in almost any environment type as long as it is not overrun with those pesky trees and shrubs. Goldenrod is typically one of the first plants to start sprouting up in an area that has been recently disturbed by things such as wildfires or tornados. This plant is very important to pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies and seems to be a favorite among bumblebees in particular. While in Ohio this plant is native, it is an invasive species in many parts of Europe and East Asia and has been blamed for the extinction of many local flora species in those regions.
The final plant for today’s dose of plant education is Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, as you might have noticed that last part sounds and looks a lot like the word carrot. Well that is because this plant is in the same species as carrots, but unlike the carrots we get from the store, this carrot hasn’t been selectively bred to be as desirable. However, this is a wild carrot still and is identifiable by the many small flowers that make up the larger “flower” as well as the hairy stiff stem, another clue is the lacey feel of the flowers hence the name Queen Anne’s Lace. Word of caution though don’t put any Queen Anne’s Lace root, which is the carrot part, in your next salad unless you are an expert plant identifier as there is a deadly cousin to Queen Anne’s Lace known as poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, and they look almost identical to one another. The main difference between the two is that Queen Anne’s Lace has a hairy stem, poison hemlock has a bald and smooth stem. Queen Anne’s Lace is commonly found in open area’s alongside the road or in unused fields where it can get plenty of sun, although you can find it on the edges of tree lines as it does well enough in partial shade as well. I found this particular specimen not too far away from the Goldenrod in the waterway between the two fields I was walking around in.