Tree ID Study

Christine was intrigued by my mention of the mystery tree I found growing in Ray Trent Park. She asked a few questions, but I added a few of my own.

First it a close-up of the main trunk, to show the scaly bark pattern. It’s pretty thick for something this short, and there’s no evidence of cropping, so it’s naturally squat and grows in a random brambly pattern. The tips of new growth stems are sharp and bare, though not quite a thorn. You can reach into it without much risk, but you could get a mild scratch if you aren’t paying attention.

Here is the backside of a still green leaf, indicating the vein pattern. With the wind blowing, I had to wait a bit for a moment when it slacked enough to catch the leaf holding still. You have to keep in mind that I’m chatting with this tree the whole time. When I announced my intention, the response I got was rather like, “Oh, yipee. An adventure!” No sarcasm, but a bit impish.

I overstated the softness of the berries. Back in the spring, when they were red, I got the impression of a very hard little pebble. This orange fruit in the fall has just a tiny bit of give when squeezed. I cut open several of them. There are seeds in star-form around the center. One, maybe two, are always quite large like a pit, so the “star” is usually a little off-center. The rest are tiny dark flakes. I tasted the juice; it was mostly sweet, a little tart and no bitterness at all. My mouth offered no surprising reactions.

Aside from the taste, it reminds me just a bit of persimmons. I’ll have to check back after the first frost to see if the berries change. Meanwhile, I took one small branch off. The wood required moderate effort to cut with a sharp pocket knife. It stripped easily with just a minimum of effort using my thumbnail. The bark flakes instead of peeling off in larger sections. The wood was moderately sappy with a sweet, fruity smell. It reminded me broadly of melons; it persisted long after drying on my nails. After drying, the sap tasted faintly bitter. The picture shows the sample sitting on my bike saddle.

There is another such tree growing a few meters away, but that one is deeply entangled with some other quick-growing “weed” tree that could kill it in a few years. I can’t say which one tried to hijack the other, but I think the berry tree is likely to lose the battle. Just to be sure, I rode around a bit in the tall grass along both creeks and saw nothing like this particular tree anywhere. I know for sure I’ve not seen it elsewhere in this part of Oklahoma. That striking contrasting color scheme in the spring was quite memorable.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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14 Responses to Tree ID Study

  1. wildcucumber says:

    Hmmm. I’m no closer to figuring this out, but let’s go over what we have ..

    The fruits are growing in small clusters (yes?), those are called ‘drupes’ (like cherries). That they have a star-shape in the centre containing the seeds makes them more akin to the haws on a hawthorn, or a rosehip or even an apple, than a cherry though, so we can rule out all the stone fruit relatives. They remind me of rowan berries but the leaves are wrong. I wonder what further changes the fruit will go through as fall progresses? Buckthorn berries, for instance, go from orange to purple/black. (and they taste foul, so we can rule out buckthorns lol).

    I see the leaf edges are serrated but I can’t tell if those are blunt or sharp serrations, that’s something that matters when trying to make an id. The leaf tip seems from the pic to be asymmetrical, that’s another id marker to look for. I can’t tell from the pics if the leaves are opposite to each other on the stems or alternate, did you notice? Those veins on the leaves are quite prominent, and that they extend from the central vein rather than fanning out from the base is another marker.

    Flaky bark is interesting, as is the sweet then bitter fragrance of the wood.

    We need a trained botanist! Fun game, though.

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  2. Ed Hurst says:

    Yes; I remember that Linda opined it was part of the crab apple family. The berries do grow in drupes, but I spotted singles here and there. The camera focused on the wrong spot because the leaf was moving; the serrated edges are sharps. From checking all the photos again, I’d say the leaves alternate; they aren’t opposed except by accident. It looks almost random to me. And I found it odd that the sap under the bark smelled sweet, but the taste had a bitter edge only after it dried. I suppose it undergoes some kind of oxidation. I’ve encountered other small trees in the past with that melon-like scent under the bark. Like this one, the bark was moderately thick and protective. The innermost layer next to the yellowish-white wood was pale green. It seems to me the wood also changed color once exposed, because it was very nearly white at first.

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  3. Okay, that’s useful info on the leaf arrangement and type of serration, thank you. I’ll pass it on to my amateur botanist friend in Virginia who is racking his brain for us. If he’s still stumped he’s suggesting we bring in our mutual friend in Eastern Europe – this quest is going international!

    I peel a lot of young branches for medicinal uses and they often change colour like that (alder turns red!). That pale green layer next to the wood allows the tree to continue some photosynthesis in the winter; somehow the melanin in the bark transfers light to the green under-layer so it can still make (minimal amounts) of nutrients.

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  4. Oops – I was also supposed to ask you for the approximate size of the tree.

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  5. Ed Hurst says:

    The trunk in the image was about 15cm in diameter. The overall height of the tree is roughly 3 meters. It’s rather squat and sturdy as trees go.

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  6. Iain says:

    That is a head scratcher, the height, shape of the tree and berries had me saying ” aha, it’s hawthorn” but, the leaves are unlike any hawthorn I’ve ever seen. Maybe a hybrid perhaps.
    As an aside, I’ve found Hawthorne’s are easy to offend but, quite gregarious once they sense your nature. They particularly dislike human classification’s, ” WE are living beings, thank you very much!”, which is why so many people get jabbed by them. It is no accident, it’s one of the few cases where I find Western interaction with nature amusing.

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  7. Ed Hurst says:

    I was inclined to think this tree was a hybrid myself. I don’t think it’s a GMO monstrosity, just unusual.

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  8. Iain, my first thought was hawthorn too. I’ve seen lots of variations in leaf shape in hawthorns up here, they interbreed like mad so there’s just no way to classify them. Plenty of them have orange berries, er haws, too.

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  9. Okay, we give up. 3 relatively experienced heads from 2 continents can’t figure this out (at least not based on pics).
    Our best guess is that it’s some kind of ornamental hybrid, quite possibly a thorn-less hawthorn.
    Ed, if you decide to call the park management folks and find out the answer, please let us know. This drove us a little nuts!

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  10. Iain says:

    Ed, me neither ,I wasn’t thinking GMO. Sister Cuke, I think you got it right. Creation likes to throw us a curve ball now & then.
    I like it when we conversate like this it r fun & a shower of blessings.
    Love and thanx to you’uns*,
    Keep on keepin’ on (KOKO)
    * you’uns pronounced “yuns” with a nasal twang is mountain “Anglish” for the more common flatlanders “y’all.”

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  11. Ed Hurst says:

    I’ll see what I can do, Christine.

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  12. I’d appreciate that Ed. My pal is still digging, by the way, he just won’t give up!

    Iain – yes! This *is* fun. “Anglish”? lol. Up here they’d say “you’s”. It’s probably because everyone is bilingual, and in French they have the plural “vous”. Or something.

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  13. Jay DiNitto says:

    In Pittsburgh, we say “yinz” for the plural “you.” I’m a transplant, so I only say it facetiously.

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  14. Pingback: Bits and Pieces 27 | Do What's Right

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