From beech to sassafras, enjoy area’s foliage


Here are some interesting facts about common trees in the area for your next party or when a staff meeting gets dull.

Sycamore wood is the wood used for butcher blocks because it is almost un-splittable. It is one of the trees that seem to be self-pruning.

White oak is used for many items, such as cabinets, office furniture and whiskey barrels.

If you buy white oak you might not be getting true white oak. Post, overcup, bur, swamp white, swamp chestnut, rock chestnut and chinkapin oaks also are sold as white oak.

Black walnut contains juglone; this chemical is toxic to quite a few herbaceous plants.

The American beech is also called “The Autograph Tree.” It gets this name for the (very bad) habit that people have of using this tree to carve their initials on.

In the oak tree family (Quercus), there are 20 different trees that grow in the Midwest. All but two are found naturally in Indiana.

While a lot of people associate the Quaking aspen with mountainous regions, it is also a native of the upper half of the state.

The pawpaw has a large (up to 5 inches long) fruit that is edible and nutritious. It also called the “Indiana Banana.”

The only problem is trying to beat the forest animals to it when it gets ripe (lots of luck). Fruit only grows on trees that grow in sunlight. They often form in large colonies (remember the song, “Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch?”)

Another family of trees is the maple. The ones we have here are sugar, black, red, silver and boxelder.

Not only are sugar and black used for syrup but, along with red and boxelder, they can be used for wood products.

Silver maple is best used for firewood. If anything goes wrong with your silver maple, the best cure is a chainsaw.

Even though they are pretty much doomed by the emerald ash borer, we do have five types of ash in the state.

These are white, green, pumpkin, black and blue. The hard problem with ash trees is telling them apart. White, green and pumpkin are easily confused with each other.

The best way to tell pumpkin from the others is to look at where it’s growing.

They are usually found in low wet woods and swamps, often in standing water.

Let’s take a look at our state tree, the tulip tree (foresters call it yellow poplar).

This tree is widely planted in lawns and parks and used for furniture and construction. In the early days, it was prime log cabin timber.

The sassafras is an interesting tree. It is interesting because it has three different shaped leaves on the younger tree. These are known as the ghost, the mitten and the football.

While it can grow to 90 feet, it commonly remains much smaller. It’s hard to find in nurseries but fairly easy to grow from seed.

It is found statewide. Of course, the inner bark of the freshly dug roots (they smell like root beer) makes sassafras tea.

The Kentucky coffee tree is an interesting tree. It got its name from the pioneers, who roasted the large seed as a coffee substitute.

The raw seeds are toxic. While it is normally a medium-sized tree, it can get up to 100 feet tall. However, it seldom lives to be more than 100 years old.

It would make a fine ornamental tree, but most people won’t plant it because the large leaves and seed pods can be messy. We have one of these at the Thornwood Nature Preserve.

So there’s a short overview of some of the trees in our area and in our parks. So get out there and enjoy a tree.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department.