Learn to Identify Trees in CVNP

July 13, 2017

There’s no place like CVNP for towering trees and thick woodlands. Summer is a great time to learn to recognize Ohio’s native trees, when their leaves are out in full force. Here in the Cuyahoga Valley, we have a great mix of trees to get you started—from the sinewy hornbeam to the towering tulip poplar.

Here are five of our favorite native trees in Cuyahoga Valley National Park:

1. Yellow Birch

Identification: Yellow birch leaves are finely serrated, two to five inches long, and alternate along the stem. The tree also has a distinctive yellow-bronze bark that flakes off in small, horizontal strips on mature trees. Yellow birches are best found in cooler woodland areas, such as at the Ritchie Ledges.

Did you know? If you gently scrape the bark of the yellow birch tree, it smells like wintergreen! In fall, these trees show off bright yellow foliage—keep your eyes out this fall.

2. Eastern Cottonwood

Identification: One of the largest tree species in CVNP, the diameter of the eastern cottonwood can exceed four feet. Its leaves are large, shiny, and triangular. Each spring, it sheds thousands of fluffy seeds (hence the name “cottonwood”). Cottonwood trees are common along rivers and streams, such as along the length of the Towpath Trail near the Cuyahoga River.

Did you know? Cottonwood trees, like other members of the poplar family, have flat stems, which catch the wind and cause the leaves to “quake” more easily than in other trees. It’s easy to pick out a cottonwood tree on a relatively calm day because its leaves will likely be moving, even in the smallest breeze.

3. Hornbeam

Identification: Hornbeams, also known as musclewood, have smooth, gray bark and a sinewy trunk. Their leaves are shaped like a long oval with a pointed tip, uneven base, and serrated edges. You can find them growing in thick, shady woodlands, such as near Haskell Run and Boston Run.

Did you know? Seeds of the hornbeam tree are a key food source for some CVNP birds, including bobwhites and wild turkeys. In addition, many different kinds of mammals, from squirrels and rabbits to foxes and deer, browse its seeds, bark, wood, and twigs.

4. Tulip Tree

Identification: The leaves of the tulip tree have four lobes, with the upper part of the leaf appearing rather square—almost like a tulip bloom! You can find these trees in areas with deep, rich, and moist soil, such as on the Buckeye Trail between Riverview Rd. and Blue Hen Falls or on Haskell Run Trail.

Did you know? The tulip tree is one of the tallest native trees in the eastern United States. It’s also sometimes called “canoewood,” referring to its use by American Indians for dugout canoes.

5. Sassafras 

Identification: Sassafras trees produce three differently shaped leaves, frequently all on the same tree: a three-lobed leaf, a two-lobed leaf shaped like a mitten, and a simple, oval-shaped leaf with no lobes. Look for sassafras in open woodlands and along meadow edges, such as in the Wetmore Trail or Oak Hill Trail systems.

Did you know? Sassafras leaves smell like root beer when torn or crushed. Traditionally, its bark (rich in fragrant oils) was used for medicinal and culinary purposes.

Do you have a favorite tree in the Cuyahoga Valley?Send us a photo or share it with us on Facebook,Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #forcvnp.