What an amazing range of Oaks there are here – White, Red, Black, Chestnut, Chinquapin, Swamp White Oaks (Quercus spp) just for starters. There are over 30 kinds of oak listed in the book The Woody Plants of Ohio by E. Lucy Braun (1989 Ohio State University Press). They stand huge and straight and so high up is the canopy that their leaves can barely be seen as they are above the widespread Sugar Maples. So recognition is mainly about getting to know the bark, beautiful ridged patterns with delicate colour strands of black, white, red, yellow, brown, grey and everything in between. The oaks provide much timber, and all of the houses built around here before prefabrication have wooden structures with wood cladding, steps, verandahs and windows. Every tree has a particular type of timber use, and we have been fortunate to walk some trails with Paul Strauss, a key founder of the Sanctuary, and hear so much about the value of the trees.The Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) being the straightest of all is easiest to spot and light enough to float readily, so reputed to be the best for dugout canoes which could carry up to 100 people. Medicinally, the Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) has very aromatic leaves, bark and roots and is interesting, the root was hugely popular as an imported tonic in Europe until one constituent, safrole, was determined to be carcinogenic in rats and it is no longer in use.
In this area, there are some enormous old trees, some surviving the strip mining for coal in Ohio and Virginia, saved from felling for timber by committed people buying up the land hereabouts. Although not especially known for tree-hugging I do feel that these trees evoke surprising feelings. Today I walked alone along the well-marked Medicine Trail and leaned against some of their trunks, and I felt their strength, grace and generosity – one Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) practically threw its nuts at me, I nearly had to dodge the big husks around 4cm across. Some other introduced trees carry delicious fruit such as the Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), apparently incredibly sweet after frost.
Sadly the Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) which has an inner bark valued for its nutritional amd demulcent properties, is dying – under attack from Dutch Elm disease. The impending death of the tree can be spotted when it starts to throw out shoots lower down its trunk. The bark is very soft and it is hard to think of anything quite like it to take its place in the herbal dispensary. So even if it can be protected from people this is one tree which may have a bleak future. Still, the other elms, maples, sycamores, oaks, hickories, horsechestnuts, walnuts and more make a fantastic woodland environment which is worth protecting, and keeping open to sympathetic visitors on trail walks.