After reading Gabriel Popkin’s article on “tree blindness,” I figured it didn’t really apply to me because I had taken an entire course on woody plant ID where at the end of it I was able to confidently identify over 100 species found in Ohio. The struggle I found myself in was that, to be honest, I didn’t remember half of it and that class was during fall/winter where the only part of the tree left to use for ID was its bark or twigs. Now, with everything in full flourish, I found myself overwhelmed and not sure what to look for. The place I chose to embark on my search for trees to ID was a short walk from my apartment, so I walked through the small park a couple times before I began to finally take notice of the trees around me. Some of my skills came back to me and with the help of my Peterson Field Guide, I was able to manage 8. Also, I would like to preface that I am 5 foot tall and I did my best to photograph the leaves without risking my life.


Before I go over the trees that I found, I need to start with where I found them. Most of the trees I located are within Iuka Park in Columbus! The habitat here is fairly average, Iuka Park is a small park within the university district of Columbus. There is an average amount of rainfall (so not too wet or dry) and a fairly flat incline, no major hills to speak of. There were points of intense sunlight but overall the area is slightly shaded.

Ohio Buckeye

The first tree I stumbled upon and a fan favorite: the Ohio buckeye, or known by its scientific name: Aesculus glabra. An interesting fact about the Ohio buckeye is that in the past artificial limbs were made from its wood!

This is one of the first trees I identified because it is a hard tree to forget when its the backbone of OSU’s identity. I knew that I was looking at a buckeye from the leaves. The leaves are arranged opposite, which weeds out many other species, and are palmately compound with 5 leaflets.

Once I knew it was a buckeye I narrowed it down to an Ohio buckeye from the fact that the tree was small in stature and had a foul smell when you break the twig which eliminated the yellow/sweet buckeye.


Another tree that I will never forget how to identify is the sycamore, scientific name Platanus occidentalis. This was one of my favorite trees that I learned in my previous class because it was so easy to identify, there really is nothing else like it. A fun fact about the sycamore is that it is often planted in urban areas because it can tolerate air pollution, makes sense why its in Columbus!

The Peterson’s Field Guide describes its unique bark as like a jig-saw puzzle, but I find the description of “camo bark” to be much more fitting. That alone was all I needed to confidently ID this tree.

It is also MASSIVE. There was no way I going to get a look at its leaves and it didn’t seem to have many to begin with, but from my own knowledge I know that it has very big leaves that are shaped like those of a maple tree with a hallow leaf stalk base that covers the buds.

American Hackberry

Another tree that is distinctive due to its bark is the American hackberry, scientific name Celtis occidentalis. An interesting fact about the hackberry is that Native American’s used its bark to treat sore throats and other diseases/ailments.

The bark of the hackberry is very distinct in how warty it is. The Peterson’s Field Guide describes it as light gray with “dark warty knobs”.

The leaves are also a clue to the tree being a hackberry. The base of the leaf is asymmetrical and the leaves are long-pointed with coarsely toothed serrations.


The ironwood or Carpinus caroliniana is another species of tree where the bark is a dead give away. An interesting fact about this tree is that it has many common names including American hornbeam and musclewood.

This tree is very unique because, as the Peterson’s Field Guide describes, it has distinctive “muscular-appearing, smooth, dark gray bark”. That is were its gets the common name of musclewood from because it looks like a muscle with veins popping out. The tree is not very big or wide, but its wood is very tough and hard which is where the ironwood name comes from.

The leaves are egg shaped and have double-toothed serrations for a leaf margin.

Sugar Maple

Up next is a tree that is very important to me as a Canadian: the sugar maple or Acer saccharum. An interesting fact about the sugar maple is that it can live for 300-400 years and the oldest known sugar maple in North America is thought to be 500 years old!

Besides the fact that the basic shape of the leaves tells you that you are looking at some type of maple, there is also the fact that the leaves are opposite. The presence of samaras also tells you that you are looking at a maple. What makes this tree a sugar maple instead of another kind of maple is lobbing of the leaves. The top two sinuses of the sugar maple leaf are shaped like a “U”.

The sugar maple is a larger tree with a dark brown trunk that is marked with rough vertical ridges.


The beech tree or Fagus grandifolia is another tree where the first thing I notice is its bark. The one I found is in its early stages but a beech none the less. Something interesting about the beech is that native people regarded the tree as a symbol for tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance.

What’s characteristic of beech bark is that it looks like an elephants foot. At least that is how I like to describe it. The Peterson’s Field Guide describes the bark as being “smooth gray”.

I became more confident that I was looking at a beech once I examined the leaves of the tree. Unfortunately, due to my height constraints I was only able to look at them from a distance, but what I gathered confirmed that I was looking at a beech. The leaves appeared thin and that they would feel like tissue paper if I were to hold them in my hand and they were egg shaped with a coarse serration for a leaf margin.

Honey Locust

The final two species of trees I am going to discuss I found right in front of my apartment which is very close to the park where the other trees were found and the habitat is basically the same except for more direct sunlight. First is the honey locust or known by its scientific name Gleditsia triacanthos. An interesting fact about the honey locust is that in the past the pulp for the seed pods was used to brew beer!

What’s different about this honey locust is that it is the ornamental version, so there are no giant thorns that are so characteristic of this species. What cued me into this being a honey locust was initially the look of its bark, as is the case for pretty much every tree I’ve discussed so far. In my head I always describe its bark as haunted, but the Peterson’s Field Guide’s description of “dark and somewhat scaly” works too.

The leaves confirmed my inclination that this was a honey locust because they are pinnately compound with numerous long narrow leaflets.

Common Cottonwood

Finally, we have the common cottonwood, scientific name: Populus deltoides,  and this tree in particular is one of my favorites because it was the first tree that I was able to ID outside of my class! An interesting fact about the common cottonwood is that it is a fast growing tree and grows 6 feet per year!

These trees are BIG!!!! Its size alone is a clue that this is a common cottonwood, but the unique bark is what assured me that this was a common cottonwood. The bark is dark and deeply ridged. The bark on this tree was all that I needed to ID it, but it helps to use the leaves to confirm. Since this tree is massive, I could not get a good picture of the leaves, they are very very high up, but from my personal experience with this particular tree I examined its leaves back in the fall and I know them to be characteristic of the common cotton wood. They are shaped like a bloated triangle, have a serrated margin, and a flat petiole. Another fun thing about there leaves is that in the wind it looks like they’re waving at you!

Thanks for tagging along with me while I explore all the diversity Columbus has to offer!!!