A trip through your local park or a nearby forest can be a bonding experience like no other. These places are littered with individuals exercising, playing games, and even having cookouts. They are all making connections with one another, but many are leaving out some of their longest-tenured neighbors. Gabriel Popkin’s “Tree Blindness” is referring to the lack of education and interest of the giants rooted around our homes.

The world is full of intruders, and knowing just a little about your neighbors can have a lasting impact on your community. Being able to identify the friendly trees of your favorite areas can help in protecting your neighborhoods and their inhabitants. Native species of flora and fauna should be protected, and these elder giants are just the beginning. Being able to recognize the trees around you is the first step in filling your neighborhood with native friends small and large.

Let’s kick this lesson off with a trip through my favorite local park. We can navigate through a few of the native giants I passed by and give ourselves a good basis for who these protectors are and how they serve our community. My canine companion and I had a nice morning stroll through the pet trail at Highbanks Metro Park on the north side of Columbus. This trail’s habitat is strictly forest and is full of local trees, so let’s explore a few of these humble beings.

American Elm
Ulmus americana

Leaf arrangement: Alternate
Complexity: Simple
Other Traits: Course double serrates
Neighbor Knowledge: American elm has a spiral grain making it hard to split. This is said to be one of George Washington’s favorite trees and can be found at Mount Vernon. Some might even be from when he was alive.


Gleditsia triacanthos L.

Leaf arrangement: Alternate
Complexity: Bipinnately Compounded
Other Traits: Finetooth margin and branch thorns
Neighbor Knowledge: The fruits contain a substance between the seeds that is sticky and tastes like honey and castor oil, this is where honey comes from in the name. Wildlife likes this treat and while we may not be privy to the taste, we could eat the other parts of the fruit.


Black Oak
Quercus velutina Lamark

Lea arrangement: Alternate
Complexity: Simple
Other Traits: Similar to red oaks, the subtle differences make it hard to tell these trees apart. The black oak leaf has fewer lobes and the lobes contain deeper notches.
Neighbor Knowledge: Black oaks are resilient trees that can even live through low-intensity grass fires. 


Flowering Dogwood
Cornus florida L.

Leaf arrangement: Opposite
Complexity: Simple
Other Traits:
Neighbor Knowledge: The bark of a dogwood will split once mature giving it the appearance of ‘alligator skin.’


Sugar Maple
Acer saccharum

Leaf arrangement: Opposite
Complexity: Simple
Other Traits: 5 principal veins, one on each lobe. Flat and smooth.
Neighbor Knowledge: These are one of the trees that produce helicopters you played with as a kid. This is an adaptation to help them fly further. Doin’ their part to spread the seed!


White Oak
Quercus alba L.

Leaf arrangement: Alternate
Complexity: Simple
Other Traits: deep lobes. Margins go all the way to end
Neighbor Knowledge: Because they keep some of their dead leaves through the winter and fall off in the spring, white oaks are a great shelter for wildlife.


Cork/Rock Elm
Ulmus thomasii

Leaf arrangement: Alternate
Complexity: Simple
Other Traits: Unlike other elms, Cork Elms are pretty close to equal-sized at the base of the leaf. Other Elms are characterized by a lopsided base. Differing also in their texture, Cork Elms are smoother and feel less like sandpaper.
Neighbor Knowledge: Dutch Elm Disease is having an impact on the Rock Elm. Spread through either native trees or through bark beetles laying their larvae under the tree’s first layer of bark.



Red Ash
Fraxinus pennsylvanica Marsh.

Leaf arrangement: Opposite
Complexity: Pinnately Compound
Other Traits: The leaflets of this tree are oblong in shape.
Fun Fact: The Red Ash and Green Ash are actually the same!

Well, that concludes today’s trip through the park. Next time you get out and take a stroll, make sure you stop and take a moment to say hello to all of your giant friendly neighbors. Maybe even give them a hug or two!