Identifying Some of Ohio’s Trees

Anyplace, any moment is a good time to start learning about Ohio’s wonderful trees and plants. It really only takes knowing a few features to be on your way to noticing how different trees truly are from one another.  As Gabriel Popkin mentions in his article, “Cure Yourself of Tree Blindness”, learning 14 species took him a long way. By appreciating the world around you, you become less a stranger in your own back yard, you become more aware of the little things people take for granted. Every living thing on this planet plays a crucial role to its ecosystem and it is important to realize that because that’s when you truly cure your blindness.  We can’t ignore the destruction of our forest ecosystems.

As I walked down Olentangy River Trail, where I found all the specimens I will be covering on this page, I become more and more comfortable using the “Trees and Shrubs” Peterson Field Guide. By the end of my walk I could easily identify a few trees without the field guide’s help. Another reason people should want to cure their tree blindness is just for the feeling of being able to identify trees with no help, in my opinion at least, it is a very cool experience.

For the first tree we have the sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, with alternate simple leaves that look similar to maple leaves in shape.The bark is very distinctive with a collage of cream, tan, and greenish colors under a flaky brown bark.  Sycamores like to be in moist environments like riverbanks where this one was found on the Olentangy River Trail. Sycamores are favorites to be planted in cities due to their ability to tolerate air pollution and for the shade they provide. Peterson Field Guide also notes that due to their massive size indigenous people used their trunks for canoes that could reach 65 feet long.

American Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis 

The leaf arrangement is alternate with simple leaf complexity, the leaves are also slightly toothed with a rough texture. The bark looks like a melted candle making it distinctive among other trees.  This specimen was located on the Olentangy River Trail, this environment is a moist site being that it is close to the riverbank. The hackberry was a popular choice for pioneer cabin flooring, leading it to be cultivated in 1636 according to this article.


Black Walnut , Juglans nigra 

The black walnut has alternate compound leaves. The leaves are comprised of 7-11 leaflets, with the terminal leaflet often absent. Mature bark has diamond shape furrows that intersect, the young bark is more of an orange- brown color due to the juglone substance.  This tree was found in a riparian habitat on the Olentangy river. Similar to buckeye nuts the Peterson Field Guide tells us the bruised nut husks were once used to kill fish but it is now illegal. 

Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides

The eastern cottonwood’s leaf arrangement consist of an alternate pattern with simple, triangle shaped leaves. The leaves tend to shake in slight breezes. The eastern cottonwood likes to grow around streams and rivers, like where this one was found along the Olentangy River Trail. The bark, when made into tea, use to have some medical value as it was given to women giving birth or for heartburn since it contain an aspirin like compound.

Catalpa, Catapla bignonioides

The leaf arrangement is one not often seen, they are whorled. With simple large heart shaped leaves they also have fruits that are long slender pods that are hard to miss.  Catalpa can endure a wide range of habitats but this one was found on the moist riverbanks of the Olentangy.  The trees’ fast growth led it to be used for fence post and railroad ties being cultivated as early as 1754.

Black Willow, Salix nigra

The black willow has alternate simple leaves. These leaves are slender with a toothed edge. They prefer wetlands, swampy areas, and are found along rivers and streams like this tree here. Black willows are among the first trees to provide nectar and pollen for honeybees after the winter according to this USDA fact sheet.

White Mulberry, Morus alba

The white mulberry tree has alternate simple leaves. The leaves themselves are quite unique looking, they can be lobed or unlobed. The white mulberry can be distinguish from the red mulberry by its yellowish bark compared to the reddish bark of the red mulberry. White mulberry likes to grow on the forest edge, exactly where I found this one on the Olentangy River Trail. The Peterson Field Guide says that these trees were introduce by the British in an attempt to start a silkworm industry.

Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera

The tulip tree has simple alternate leaves that stand out compared to other leaves. They have four point leaves that are an unusual shape. They like moisture in their soil which could be true for the location I found this one by a river bank on the Olentangy. George Washington must have been a fan of tulip trees because he planted some at Mount Vernon which now reach over 140 feet tall.


At the end of this experience I feel I am closer at curing my tree blindness. It is not only being able to identify these trees but have an appreciation for the role they play in our environment. Humans and trees have been interconnected since the beginning of our history, they are part of the reason for our success.