Nature Center Plants

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Tilia Americana
Found in mesic deciduous forest on rich, well drained to somewhat poorly drained, moist loamy soils of bottomlands and stream borders. Basswood is a large, fast growing tree of 60-100 feet tall with a dense rounder crown often sprouting at the base.

Bark: Thin, smooth gray on young stems becoming dark gray, deeply furrowed into narrow, flat-topped ridges which are nearly parallel.


Leaves: Alternate, large somewhat heart shape with unequal lobes. Coarsely toothed, dull dark yellowish green above, paler beneath.


Flowers: Late June to early July.  Perfect, regular; yellowish white, downy and fragrant; borne on slender pedicels in loose drooping cymes or clusters with the peduncle (stem) attached for half its length to a narrow, oblong, yellowish bract. They are five petaled and creamy white. Flowers are quite favorable to bees which visit in masses.


Winter bud: Terminal bud absent; lateral buds oval, often lopsided, smooth and dark red, sometimes green.


Fruit: Rounded, woody nut-like about the size of a pea in October. Gray, densely pubescent like matted wool and attached to a leafy bract.

Uses and folklore: Native Americans made rope from the fibers of young stems. Strips of bark were also used to make baskets and mats. It is an excellent nectar source for bees. Also known as Lime in England or White Wood referring to its white soft wood which is good for carving.

Ostrya virginiana            

Found as a slow growing, smaller understory tree in both dry-mesic oak-hickory and mesic beech-maple forests quit often favoring slopes. Ironwood is an indicator of good nutrient availability and is not found on poorly drained sites. It is found throughout the state except in some colder interior counties in the northern Lower Peninsula. While the record large tree in Michigan is nearly three feet in diameter, most are much smaller and reaching only 20 to 30 feet in height.

Bark: Thin, grayish brown and broken into narrow flattish pieces that tend to be loose at the ends, giving it a shredded appearance. Bark of saplings is smooth reddish or dark brown with horizontal lenticels often being confused with Yellow Birch


Leaves: Alternate, oblong-ovate, sharply double serrate with larger teeth at the ends of veins. Thin and very tough, dull dark green above while being paler and finely pubescent beneath, turning yellow in fall.


Winter bud: Terminal bud absent; lateral and end buds 1/8–1/4 inch long, ovoid, acute, becoming pale brown and slightly hairy.


Fruit: September; small flat nut enclosed in a flattened sac which is covered with stiff hairs. Sacs hang in clusters resembling Hops from slender hairy stems, hence the name Hop-hornbeam.

Uses and folklore: The close grained wood is known as Ironwood as it is very strong, heavy, hard and durable. The wood is/was used for tool handles, fence posts, levers, wedges and fuel. In pioneer days it was used not only for levers and prying poles, but for wagon tongues, wheel rims and spokes as well as many other uses.

Carya Ovate

The shaggy bark gives this medium to large tree a distinctive appearance. A straight, slender trunk leads to a narrow and somewhat open crown. While this hickory prefers light well-drained fertile in association with oaks, it can also be in river bottoms and river banks. Seedlings are shade-tolerant, becoming less tolerant as they age and my die waiting for disturbance to open the canopy exposing them to more light.

Bark: Thin, smooth and gray on younger trees becoming thicker and separating into long plates of one to three feet long on older trees. These plates are loose on one or both ends, curling out away from the trunk, giving it the characteristic shaggy appearance.


Leaves: Alternate, compound with nearly always 5 leaflets but occasionally 7. Leaflets obovate, pointed at both ends, the terminal leaflet is larger than the lateral leaflets. Finely toothed, firm and fringed with minute dense tufts of hair in sunlight. Color is dark yellowish green above, paler beneath and fragrant when crushed.


Winter bud: Terminal bud 1/2-3/4inch long. Egg shaped or oval, dark brown with pointed loosely spreading outer scales. Inner scales are silky-pubescent below. Lateral buds smaller and point away from the twig.


Fruit: Nearly spherical, shorter than wide nut enclosed in a thick husk that is 4 ribbed and completely separates. Large, sweet, edible light yellowish brown kernel is the major hickory of commerce.

Uses and folklore: The wood is heavy, very hard, strong, tough, close-grained, elastic and light brown in color. It is used for tool handles, furniture and cabinets, sporting equipment, in smoking meats and is an excellent fire wood. It is closely related to the less common Shellbark Hickory. Syrup can also be made from the bark of this tree. The bark of hickory yields a yellow dye and was used to dye wool and linens.

Fagus Grandifolia

A large stately tree which stands out in the forest with its large trunk and smooth light colored bark. In the forest it is tall and slender forming a narrow crown; while it may have a shorter trunk and spreading crown when in the open. Trunks of two to four feet in diameter are common. While preferring somewhat rich mesic sites, beech is found on a variety of soil and moisture conditions. It is very shade tolerant, existing in the understory for years and can live as long as 300 to 400 years. While Michigan is at the western range of this tree, it can be found in both the lower and the eastern upper peninsulas. Blue Jays help to spread the seeds. With its thin bark it is susceptible to fires, but may re-sprout from the base of the trunk after being cut or a fire. Until 2000 it was free from major pest and diseases, when the scale and associated beech bark disease (from Europe) was discovered in Michigan.

Bark: Characteristic, thin, light grey with some dark blotches on older trees. Initials are often carved in the bark and remain for the life of the tree.


Leaves: Alternate, simple, 3-5 inches long, coarsely toothed with a vein terminating at each incurved tooth; petioles are short and hairy. Dull green above, light yellow-green and shinny below turning yellowish in fall and often persisting through the winter.


Winter bud: Terminal buds very slender, cylindrical, tapering to a sharp point, brown and nearly an inch long; lateral buds smaller and diverging at nearly right angles to the twigs.


Fruit: Two or three tetrahedral (having four faces or triangles) nuts releasing from a bristly husk in autumn. The brownish nuts are about 3/4 of an inch, sweet and edible. There are 3 to 5 years between good seed productions, nuts often are without a living seed. The nuts are an important wildlife food.

Uses and folklore: The light or dark red wood is hard, tough, strong, and close-grained, it is not durable and is hard to season. It is used for furniture, flooring, tool handles and woodenware such as wooden kitchen utensils.

Prunus Serotina

A medium sized tree of up to 85 feet tall with a spreading oblong or rounded crown. Found in a variety of habitats throughout the state such as dry-mesic oak-hickory and beech-maple forests, openings, woodland edges, fence rows and old fields. It is a shade tolerant understory tree when young and fast growing. Intolerant of high water tables or poorly drained sites, it is also resistant to freezing. Leaves and twigs contain hydrocyanic acid and are poisonous to browsing animals. Birds spread seeds which can lie dormant for up to 3 years. Young trees are a frequent host of Black Knot fungus.

Bark: Dark red-brown and smooth on younger trunks. The bark of older trunks becoming blackish, rough, and broken into irregular plates, giving it a “burnt potato chip” appearance.


Leaves: Alternate, about 1/3 wide as long, narrowly oval or oblong-lanceolate.  Leaves are pointed on the end with finely serrate edges of incurved teeth. They are leathery, moderately thick, dark green and shiny above, while paler with a dense reddish brown pubescence along or near the midrib of the underside. There are usually two red glands on the short petiole near the leaf blade. Leaves turn yellow to reddish color in fall.


Flowers: White flowers borne on loose racemes of 4-5 inches long in May to June when leaves are half grown.

Winter bud: Terminal bud about 1/4 inch long, ovoid, blunt to acute; scales keeled on the back and reddish brown.


Fruit: Late summer; slightly bitter, edible, nearly black globular drupe up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Flesh is dark purple and juicy. Fruiting shoot appears as a cluster.

Uses and folklore: The wood is moderately heavy, rather hard with a straight close grain and is light brown to red in color. The color of the wood darkens when exposed to sunlight for long periods. Used for veneer, furniture, interior trim, scientific instruments, woodenware and gun stocks.

Assimina Triloba               

A small, shade tolerant and slow growing tree reaching only 20 to 30 feet in height and often appears shrub-like. Its crown is broad and round-topped with horizontal-spreading branches. It forms clones of identical stems which can form dense thickets. Paw Paw is found mainly south of the Grand and Maple rivers in the southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan in moist, fertile river valleys and bottom lands as well established dunes along Lake Michigan.

Bark: Thin, smooth, dark brown with whitish blotches and small wart-like protuberances; becoming rough, scaly and slightly fissured on older trees.


Leaves: Alternate, simple, large (up to 12 inches long), obovate-lanceolate tapering towards the base. Leaves may have a rusty pubescence when young, becoming light green above and paler beneath and smooth on both sides. The veins are prominent. Leaves are aromatic, resembling the smell of motor oil when bruised.


Flowers: Dark reddish-brown six petaled flowers appear in late May to early June while leaves are still small and are pollinated mostly by flies.


Winter bud: The terminal bud lacks scales, is flat and rusty brown with minute hairs. Lateral buds are much smaller and flower buds are rounded.

Fruit: The stubby (3-5 inches long) banana like fruit ripens in Late September to October. It is light green until ripe, when it turns to dark brown or black with the flesh becoming yellow or golden color. The flesh is edible when ripe, is rich custard like flavor and is embedded with many large, thick, flattened brown seeds. Some people can develop a rash from handling the fruit.


Uses and folklore: The seeds contain the alkaloid, asiminine for which the tree is named. Natural insecticides in various parts of the plant prevent most insects from feeding on it and have been used to kill head lice in the past. The leaves are however the food of the Zebra Swallowtail butterflies larvae. The bark which contains the alkaloid analobine has been used as a medicine. The tough, fibrous inner bark was used by Native Americans for ropes, mat and fishing nets.

Populus grandidentats

A medium sized tree of 60 to 110 feet tall, with a rounded or oval crown of few, coarse spreading branches. Found in dry to mesic forests and does not tolerate wet, poorly drained sites and is common throughout the state. Very fast growing, shade intolerant and individual stems may be short lived. Proliferates from roots and suckers after fire, cutting or browsing.

Bark: Starts out thin, smooth, yellowish gray to tan, sometimes with a green cast: becoming dark gray with irregular fissures with broad flat-topped ridges at the base of older tress and in deep shade. A photosynthesizing cortex layer gives the green cast in younger bark.


Leaves: Alternate, 3-5 inches long and 2/3 as wide; ovate-orbicular with about 10 coarse, wavy teeth per side. Covered in dense white hairs beneath when young, becoming dark green above and paler beneath. The long slender, laterally compressed petioles cause the leaves to tremble in the breeze.


Winter bud: Terminal buds cone shaped and terminating in a sharp angle, light chestnut color scales covered with light gray hairs.


Uses and folklore: A major food source of beaver and White-tailed deer. The light, soft, weak, porous wood is used to make plywood, boxes, crates, matches, veneer, interior trim, and is of major source of pulp wood.

Robinia Pseudoacia

A medium sized tree of up to 60 feet and native to the Appalachian and Ozark regions. Fast growing when young and shade intolerant, the tree spreads by underground roots to form large colonies of clones. The crown is narrow, oblong-cylindrical of more or less irregular contorted branches. It thrives in a variety of soil conditions but does best on well drained sandy soils that are not consistently wet.

Bark: Thick, deeply furrowed into rounded, interlacing scaly ridges.


Leaves: Alternate, pinnately compound having 7-21 ovate to oblong-oval leaflets on short petioles (stems) attached to one longer central petiole. Leaf margins are smooth or entire. Leaves are very thin; dull dark green above and paler beneath.


Flowers: Abundant, showy, very fragrant, 5 petaled and sweet pea like white flowers are borne in loose drooping clusters from May to June after the leaves.

Winter bud: Terminal buds absent; lateral buds minute, 3-4 suppressed, partially sunken within the leaf-scar, rusty-hairy.

Fruit: A smooth, dark brown, flat pod, 3-4 inches long with 4-8 flattish brown seeds in late autumn. Pods are persistent through the winter on the tree

Uses and folklore: The brown wood is very strong, heavy, hard and close-grained and is quit durable and rot resistant when in contact with soil. It has been used for fence posts, lumber, tool handles, boxes and crates. As a legume, nitrogen-fixing bacteria in root nodules fix nitrogen into the soil. Black Locust is a common host food plant for our largest skipper, the Silver-Spotted Skipper.

Quereus Alba

A large tree reaching 90 feet in height and the trunk can be as much as four feet in diameter. The straight trunk reaches far into the spreading crown made up of large branches. It is common in the Lower Peninsula and more abundant in the southern half.  White Oaks are characteristic of oak-hickory forests on dry-mesic upland sites which are prone to drought with well drained soils. They can also be found in mesic sites with beech and maples and are not likely to be found in poorly drained soils. Intermediate in shade tolerance, moderately slow growing and long lived. The tree is difficult to transplant due to the deep tap root.

Bark: Thick, light gray or whitish on old trunks shallowly fissured into broad, flat ridges.


Leaves: Alternate, simple, 5-9 inches long and half as wide, 5-9 lobed, with entire, (smooth edged) rounded lobs; sinuses are deep or shallow depending on location in crown and light exposure. They are smooth, bright green above; pale and glabrous beneath. Leaves are often persistent through the winter.


Winter bud: Terminal bud about1/8 inch long, broadly ovoid, obtuse; scales are glabrous and dark red-brown. Lateral buds are smaller and divergent (point away from the twig).


Fruit: Acorn; short-stalked in autumn of the first season. The cup has small wart like scales and enclosing 1/4 of the nut. Nut is oblong-ovoid, rounded at the apex, about 3/4 inch long and light brown with a sweet, edible kernel.

Uses and folklore: The wood is very heavy, strong, hard, tough and close-grained. It is used for furniture, interior trim, flooring, wine casks and barrels. Nuts are eaten by Blue Jays, turkey and deer. Native Americans also used the nuts which can be dried and ground into a flour as a food source.

Carya Cordiformis

A medium to large tree reaching 75 to 85 feet in height with a trunk diameter of up to 3 feet. The slender, branch free trunk reaches into a broad crown of slender, stiff upright branches, being the widest near the top. The long taproot makes it windfirm and not easily transplanted. Found in beech-maple and mixed hardwood stands of the southern half of the Lower Peninsula where it is shade tolerant and moderately slow growing.

Bark: Thin, gray and smooth for many years, gradually separating into shallow fissures and narrow interlacing ridges that are always tight and not shaggy.


Leaves: Alternate, pinnately compound with 7–9 slender leaflets. The lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate leaflets are pointed, finely toothed and have little if any petiole attaching them to the central petiole. Leaves are firm, shiny, bright green above and paler and pubescent along the veins beneath and turn golden yellow in the fall.


Winter bud: The terminal bud is about 3/4 of an inch long; long-pointed, flattish and sulfur yellow in color, making it one of the easiest winter buds to identify. The lateral buds are more or less 4 angled.


Fruit: Nut in October; nearly rounded to an inch long with a thin shell and bitter kernel. Nut is coated with a yellow scurfy pubescence in a very thin husk that is 4-winged to about the middle and splitting about half way to the base.

Uses and folklore: The wood is heavy, very hard, strong and close grained. Used for tool handles, furniture, ladders, sporting goods and fuel for smoking meat. The bark of hickory yields a yellow dye and was used to dye wool and linens.

Quercus Rubra  

A large tree that reaches 65 to 90 feet tall, a trunk diameter of nearly 4 feet and forming a broad, rounded crown of a few large wide-spreading branches. Prefers rich, moist loam but grows well in any well-drained soils throughout the entire state. Relatively fast growing and long lived, living 300 plus years.

Bark: Young trunks are smooth and grayish brown while the bark on older trees is darker, thicker and shallowly fissured into thin, firm, broad flat-toped ridges.


Leaves: Alternate, simple 5-9 inches long and 4-6 inches broad. 5–11 lobes with coarse-toothed, bristle-tipped lobes, tapering from broad bases with wide, oblique, rounded sinuses. They are thin and firm; dull dark green above, paler beneath with stout petioles 1–2 inches long; turning reddish-brown in autumn.


Winter bud: Terminal bud is 1/4 inch long, ovoid, acute, slightly angled, reddish brown and smooth or slightly pubescent.


Fruit: Sessile or short-stalked acorn in autumn of second year. Cap is a shallow cup that is saucer shaped and inclosing only the base of the nut. Cap has closely appressed scales that are more or less glossy and bright red-brown. The nut is oblong-ovoid with a broad base, about 1 inch long, red-brown; kernel is white and very bitter due to tannins.

Uses and folklore: The wood is heavy, strong, hard, coarse-grained and pale reddish brown. It is used for furniture, flooring, veneer, interior trim, posts, pilings, crates boxes and fuel. Acorns are food for deer, turkeys, Blue Jays and squirrels.

Acer Saccharum

Sugar or Hard Maple is a large stately tree of up to 100 feet in height and a trunk diameter of usually 2 to 4 feet and Michigan’s largest Sugar Maple is 6 feet in diameter. The crown is a broad round topped dome. Highly shade tolerant, especially in the shaded understory, very slow growing and it is long lived at 200–400 years. It is characteristic of mesic deciduous forests with moist, well drained fertile soils from sand to clay. Sugar Maple is considered common to abundant throughout the state.

Bark: Gray and smooth on young trees and dark gray, deeply furrowed, often cleaving at one edge in long thick irregular plates; often somewhat scaly.


Leaves: Opposite, simple, 3–5 inches long and broad, usually 5-lobed but are sometimes 3-lobed. The lobes are sparingly wavy-toothed, the sinuses broad and rounded at the base; thin and firm; opaque dark green above, lighter beneath and turning yellow and red in autumn. The petioles are long and slender.


Winter bud: Small, acute, conical, sharply pointed, red-brown and smooth or somewhat pubescent towards the apex. The terminal bud is hardly 1/4 inch long with the lateral buds being smaller and appressed.


Fruit: September-October, paired samaras, glabrous, with somewhat divergent wings about 1 inch long. Seed geminate the following spring.

Uses and folklore: The wood is heavy, hard, strong, close-grained, tough, durable and light brown. Wood is used for furniture, flooring, cabinetry, veneer, plywood, tool handles, turned wooden ware, cutting blocks, musical instruments and fuel. This is the source of “pure Maple Syrup” which is made from boiling off the water from the sap in late winter to early spring, leaving a high sugar content liquid. This is both a modern day and ancient practice as the northern American Indians boiled the sap for both syrup and sugar. Sugar Maple can be distinguished from Norway Maple by breaking the petiole, if it exudes white, milky sap it is Norway.

Plantaus Occidentalis

A large tree that reaches 65 to 100 feet in height with a trunk diameter of 3 to 5 feet. The strong central trunk reaches into a broad, open, irregular crown of large, spreading branches. Michigan’s largest Sycamore reaches 120 feet tall and has a trunk diameter of 5 feet. Sycamore is characteristic of river floodplains and bottomland forests with moist, alluvial soils such as clay or silt. It tolerates flooding, silting, high water tables and poor drainage. The tree is shade-intolerant, fast growing and relatively long-lived. They are susceptible to fire and those along rivers to ice damage with decay following soon after the injury, creating hollow trunks. Sycamore is a southern species that reaches into the southern half of the Lower Peninsula.

Bark: Thick reddish-brown on the lower trunk and broken into oblong plate-like scales; separating higher up into large, thin, irregular plates which flake of exposing the greenish or cream inner layers, creating a distinct mottled appearance.


Leaves: Alternate, simple, 5-10 inches long and slightly wider, broadly ovate; more or less 3-5 lobed by broad shallow sinuses. The lobes are strongly wavy toothed; thin and firm, bright green above and paler beneath and neither smooth or hairy.


Winter bud: Terminal bud is absent; lateral buds 1/4-3/8 inch long, conical, blunt, and lustrous, pale brown; forming in summer with the petiole of the leaf.


Fruit: October and persistent on tree through the winter. Solitary (rarely 2), dense brown balls about 1 inch in diameter on slender, glabrous stems from 3-6 inches long. This round fruit gives way to another name for the tree of “Buttonwood”.

Uses and folklore: Wood is heavy, tough, hard, but rather weak, coarse-grained, difficult to split or work, light red-brown, with thick, darker colored sapwood. The wood is used for butcher’s-block tobacco boxes, crating, cabinetwork, furniture, interior finish, veneer and pulp wood. Pioneers used the hollow logs to smoke meat and store grain. Sycamore is quite likely the largest and tallest deciduous tree in North America.

Populus Deltoids

A large, stately tree reaching 65 to 100 feet in height and 4 feet or more in diameter. In dense stands trees develop smooth, slender trunks and relatively short open, symmetrical crowns while those in the open develop a wide, spreading open crown of massive spreading branches. Cottonwood prefers rich, moist soils of river-banks, bottom lands and lakeshores but also does well on drier sites. It is a pioneer species in open areas such as wet fields, and ditches far away from streams. Cottonwood is common in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula and less common in warmer areas northward along the great lakes. Very shade intolerant, fast growing and short lived.

Bark: Thin, smooth and yellowish-gray on young trees, soon developing rough, furrowed bark at the base; old trunks ashy gray, deeply divided into straight furrows with broad flat-topped ridges.


Leaves: Alternate, simple, 3-6 inches long and nearly as broad; broadly triangular; coarsely toothed above the entire base with 20-25 curved teeth per side. Thick, firm, very lustrous and dark green above while paler beneath with slender, compressed petioles, turning yellow in autumn.


Winter bud: Terminal bud 1/2-1/4 inch long, slender, angled, 3-sided, long pointed, shinning, very resinous and yellowish-brown.


Fruit: May to June; short stalked capsules, borne in drooping catkins 8-10 inches long; seeds whitish to light brown, a tuft of white hairs (resembling cotton) attached. The falling, drifting or blowing cotton and seeds are referred to as “snow in June” as it can cover the ground giving a snow covered appearance.

Uses and folklore: Wood is light, soft, week, close-grained, warps badly and is difficult to season. It is used for pulpwood, excelsior, boxes, crates, plywood, furniture core stock and woodenware. Cotton wood buds are used to make a salve known as "Balm of Gilead"; it has been used for centuries to treat a variety of skin troubles, from cuts and scrapes to minor burns and bruises.