Hood College Tree Walk
There are 14 trees to see in and around Hood College. It should take about 45 minutes to an hours to see them all. A map with a full list of the trees and directions is available. Interesting information about these specimens is provided in this series. Every image is available in high resolution by clicking on it.
Table of Contents
1. Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus), Non-native
It is unfortunate that this tree doesn’t have a more prominent position on campus because it is a spectacular species when allowed to flourish without being encumbered by neighboring trees or structures. Gymnocladus, the genus name for the coffee tree, breaks down to mean naked branch in Greek and it’s one of the ways to recognize this tree in the winter. As you can see in the photos-- the coffee tree has the largest compound leaf of any tree in North America at up to three FEET long. All that foliage sprouting off the branches means there is no space for very fine twigs and branches so the twigs on the coffee tree are very stout. This gives it a unique appearance in winter that is not very attractive when young, but in an old tree, it can be stunningly beautiful and unique, looking like something out of a Tim Burton movie.
The tree gets its common name because the seeds nestled in the giant pods look enough like large coffee beans that early settlers gave it a try, roasting the beans and making a coffee-like beverage. It is likely there were some casualties during the experimentation phase because if the roasting is done improperly or not at all, the beverage would be poisonous.
One doesn’t find Kentucky coffee trees in the wild very often. Along with species such as the osage orange and honey locust, they belong to a group called “ecological anachronisms” meaning out of place and time, ecologically. Members of these tree species coevolved with now extinct megafauna, where mega means large and fauna means animals. North American giants such as a 400 pound beaver, a camel, four species of giant ground sloth ranging from 800 to 1200 pounds and the 6 ton wooly mammoth are all included in this group, just to name a few. Those guys could wolf down some giant seed pods and gobble up some mega-fruits, so they spread the seeds of these trees far and wide. Now, these ecological anachronisms are limited in distribution for want of some megafauna to do their part in this biological relationship. We usually just find them in floodplains now unless humans plant them. Want to learn more about this fascinating story? Click here: Trees That Miss the Mammoths
2. Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), Native
Except for tropical palms, the bigleaf magnolia has the largest simple leaf of any native North American tree, with leaves up to 36” long. If you are lucky enough to see this amazing specimen in the spring or summer, you will not only get to see these amazingly long leaves, but also might catch a glimpse of one of the beautiful, creamy white blossoms that can reach up to a foot in width, or, one of the furry, round seed pods that can be as big as a baseball. If you visit later in the season, you might get to see one of the seed pods “ejecting” its red, ripened seeds, each one suspended on slender threads and hanging from the pod. This species is widespread, but not at all common in natural areas so most people have never even heard of bigleaf magnolia. Neither are they commonly used for landscaping since people don’t welcome the mess of these extraordinarily large leaves. We are actually very lucky to have this very unique tree on the Hood College campus. Planted sometime in the late 1970s, the young tree can be seen in a photograph of what is now known as the Alumnae House, circa 1980. Look on the left side of the historical photo included in this posting and you can see the giant leaves, seeming to be much too large for the spindly little trunk upon which they sit. This particular specimen is also our Maryland State Champion bigleaf magnolia! See this lovely tree and so many more champions at mdbigtrees.com and frederick.forestryboard.org.
3. English Walnut (Juglans regia-Juglans), Non-native
The walnut genus, means “jupiter nut” in Latin. What a fitting name for these immense, delicious and nutritious nuts since Jupiter was king of all the gods in ancient Roman mythology. Walnuts are truly nuts fit for a king! In ancient times, walnuts, like many fruits and nuts, were symbols of fertility. In fact, in Song of Songs 6 of the Christian bible, there is a verse where one is looking down on a valley of nuts and it’s widely believed the nut trees in that valley were English walnuts-- Juglans regia, also known as the Persian walnut. When you buy a bag of walnuts at the grocery store for your cookies, salads or trail mix, it is the nut of this beautiful non-native walnut tree, which is much milder in flavor than our own native black walnut. English walnuts that supply our American market are mostly grown in the San Joaquin and Sacramento areas of California. This particular English walnut tree was probably planted by the original residents of The President’s House.
4. Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Native
If you happen to grow up in a rural area, you may have been the victim of a pranking older cousin or even, a mischievous grandparent, who decided to have a little fun by giving you an unripe persimmon from a tree just like this just to watch your face when you bit into it. If not, count yourself lucky because, like most members of the Diospyros genus, our native persimmon produces fruits that are so astringent when unripe that they make an unripe banana taste like a juicy peach by comparison. Picture in your mind a vast dry, desolate and empty desert with the Santa Ana winds blowing right through it, tumbleweeds rolling along…that’s your mouth when you eat an unripe persimmon. By binding to your salivary proteins, tannins in the unripe fruit literally suck the moisture right out of your saliva. Sound like fun? Well, it’s not. However, if you wait until about the time of the first frost, these fat and juicy little treats will fall like manna from heaven and you will be treated to a delectable, soft and mushy fruit so sweet you will be shocked. You have to find a female persimmon tree to taste this unique fruit, though, because persimmons are dioecious plants, meaning that the male and female flowers are on different trees. Observe the bark on this beauty—it’s unique in the world of trees with its deep, dark color and a tight, blocky pattern that makes it look like something between alligator skin and a tree bark mosaic. The tree here at Hood College is unusually large for a persimmon tree, since it is growing in the open and cared for by arborists. That’s why it’s our Frederick County Champion persimmon tree! See it and more beautiful champion trees of Frederick County and Maryland on mdbigtrees.com and frederick.forestryboard.org.
5. Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima), Non-native
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…This lovely holiday tune was written in 1945, a time when you could still find a few American chestnut trees and the fall harvest of the tasty nuts were available to give rise to festivals and inspire songs and literary references. However, when we brought Japanese chestnut trees here around the turn of the last century, we accidentally brought a little hitchhiker here as well, a pathogenic fungus that would, in less than 50 years, wipe out pretty much every single American chestnut on the continent, about four billion trees. This is an excellent example of how the very human desire to have it all has often causes havoc in our natural ecosystems. Now, we have Japanese honeysuckle, kudzu, Asian bittersweet, zebra mussels, marmorated stinkbugs, emerald ash borer and cane toads to deal with, causing untold millions of dollars to be spent on control of these species that arrive here with no diseases, predators or other natural controls. We’ve thankfully learned a lot since those days, but must be constantly vigilant about bringing species to new locations where they could quickly become a serious problem.
Chinese chestnut trees have been exposed to the chestnut blight fungus for a very long time and thus have been able to evolve defenses against it so they thrive here in the United States. Scientists are working on a hybrid of Chinese chestnut and American chestnut trees that can withstand the blight and integrate into our forest ecosystems, providing all the resources our wildlife used to enjoy. These three lovely Hood campus trees have been producing a bountiful harvest for many years to the delight of the local wildlife--fat squirrels that can be seen eating and hiding the plump, shiny nuts in September. First, they have to wait until the spiny husk splits open and drops the seeds because that husk is just rude. In-the-know humans can share in this bounty, too. Just score the nuts and pop them into the oven or, roast in a pie pan over an open fire. Make sure you sing when you do, to get the full experience!
6. Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis), Non-native
The Fagus genus has about ten species of beech trees and is a member of the Fagaceae family. Since this is also where you will find all the different species of oaks, you could say that oak and beech trees are cousins. This particular beech species is Eurasian, rather than purely Asian as the name might imply and it would likely be a challenge to find another oriential beech tree here in Frederick.
If you are enjoying the many old, unusual and beautiful trees of Hood Campus during your walk, you can send a thank you up to Hood College’s first First Lady, Mrs. Gertrude Garner Apple, for this legacy of arboreal beauty. She is responsible for much of the early planning for the spectacular campus landscaping and she clearly had a deep love of trees. In 1895, she arrived at the women’s college as head of the English department and three years later married its president. Her document “Trees of Hood” found in the Hood College archives includes this passage, “Among the trees on the campus of especial interest are two English beeches on opposite sides of the walk from Alumnae Hall to the Pergola. They were contributed to Hood a number of years ago by the late Dr. Willian Mann Irvine, Headmaster of Mercersburg Academy. These beeches were from a number secured by Dr. Irvine from Hawarden, Wales, in the home of the Prime Minister William E. Gladstone. They have been growing steadily, though somewhat slowly, and have a double interest by their association with the names of two great men in two different fields of human endeavor.” Evidence would indicate this is one of those beeches. In all likelihood the other is the copper beech located close-by on this walk. Both would be considered English beeches in common vernacular of the time.
Mrs. Apple was correct in stating the trees grow slowly, as that is a characteristic of both oak and beech trees—their slow growth makes them strong and hardy, often living several hundred years. Most fast-growing trees have weak wood that make them vulnerable in bad weather and live a generally shorter lifespan. Future generations will likely enjoy this tree as much as you do!
7. Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea'), Non-native
8. Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), Non-native
Lagerstoemia is a genus of trees and shrubs with about 50 different species worldwide ranging in size from 2 to 100 feet tall at maturity. The classic southern species is L. indica, which can be seen blooming with intense color from late July through September all over Frederick. Not only desirable for its beautiful colors and long bloom period, it is also well-loved for its winter interest to boot due to the beautiful peeling bark and undulating form of the mature trunks. Once you learn to recognize the trunks, you will likely begin to notice this tree or shrub pretty much everywhere throughout the year. It’s a staple member of any southern garden but over the many years of human cultivation, botanists have created cultivars that thrive in our climate, as well. It’s relatively easy to grow and maintain, blooms reliably with no fertilizer and needs very little care. As a matter of fact, people often believe it needs more care than it actually does, so they give it a rather brutal pruning (known as a crepe murder) when in fact, it would be better off with more tentative pruning or, just left alone to grow naturally. Some extracts of crepe myrtle have purported medicinal value. This genus does not serve as a significant nectar source, nor does it host any of our native butterfly species, however the seeds do seem to have some wildlife benefit for birds in the winter.
9. Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia), Non-native
What a beautiful and interesting landscaping tree the Chinese elm turns out to be. Its elegant shape and fast growth rate along with its lack of susceptibility to most pests, diseases and stresses our area has to offer makes it a nice landscaping tree choice. While it’s not native to our area, it is also not invasive and does provide food for wildlife and even people. It has several really stand-out features and fun facts that makes it especially interesting, the most obvious being its stunningly beautiful flaking bark. Depending upon the cultivar, it may peel to reveal orange, red, olive, gray or brown bark patterns, rich in color, texture and variety. This gives rise to its other common name—lacebark elm. Another great feature—the papery little seeds of this tree, going by the same name as maple seeds—samaras—are edible! Harvesting them right after they form means you can eat the whole thing, disk and all. Even if you’ve waited a little too long and the papery disk has turned brown, just flake it off and munch on the seeds themselves, which are found at the center. Fun fact—Chinese elms make fabulous bonsai specimens, easy to train and prune, even for beginners.
Before about the middle of 1940, the closely related American elm trees were THE dominant landscaping tree in the United States. Magnificently tall with an elegant vase shape and undulating and arching canopy, they lined the streets of many US cities. However, an exotic blight called Dutch Elm Disease killed pretty much every one of those beautiful trees. At about that time, Chinese elms were introduced to North America due to their innate resistance to the organism that caused the blight. Chinese elms are often confused with the Siberian elm, a weak-wooded and undesirable tree in comparison with Chinese elms, which have unusually tough and hard wood useful for too handles if all kinds and also has a beautiful grain. The samaras of Siberian elms are also edible, but certainly not as tasty as Chinese elm samaras with a little extra virgin olive oil and some balsamic vinegar.
10. London plane (Platanus acerifolia), Non-native
The Platanus genus includes several prominent species—the American sycamore, the oriental plane tree and this hybrid between the two: the London planetree or London plane. Early explorers, botanists and settlers passionately collected seeds from the newly discovered Americas and routinely sent them back to their colleagues and garden enthusiasts in the centuries after Europeans began to explore the Americas. Sometimes, related species were able to hybridize and this is exactly what seems to have happened between the oriental plane tree and the North American tree called a sycamore. Let’s look first at the oriental plane tree. Trees with a long and established cultural significance, the Platanus orientalis, or oriental plane tree is often found in locations important to people such as meeting places or, near the central water sources for the town. Growing a wide and spreading crown and enormous, long lived trunks, it’s not unusual to find that one of these historical trees has lived for more than 500 years. Kew Gardens in London has thirteen trees designated ‘Heritage Trees’ and one of them is a plane tree.
The “Hippocrates Tree,” where the famous Greek philosopher taught his medical students, is an oriental plane tree. Platanus occidentalis, or American sycamore is a tree native to North America, often found growing in riverine environments since they tolerate flooded roots. Also very long-lived, coming in at around 250 years, the American sycamore has the same peeling bark, hanging fruits balls and large leaves so it’s no surprise that the hybrid of the two can easily be mistaken for a sycamore tree. Often planted as street trees, Platanus x acerifolia, or London plane trees have been planted for hundreds of years in urban environments because they are exceptionally tolerant of soil compaction and air pollution. They are the predominant street tree in many cities all over the world. You can distinguish between a London plane and a sycamore by looking at the leaves, fruits and bark. London planes have more deeply lobed leaves and their seed balls hang in pairs or trios whereas sycamores have shallow lobes and seed balls that hang singly. The peeling bark of a native sycamore is usually very white, whereas the bark of a London plane peels to reveal more grayish or creamy bark. To contrast this tree with a native sycamore, take a walk along Carroll Creek in Baker Park where a number of native sycamores grow in close proximity to the water and there is another London plane on the tree walk near the swimming pool.
11. European Linden (Tilia × europaea), Non-native
Whether you call it a lime tree, a Linden or a basswood, this is a spectacular tree for landscaping. Long-lived, disease-resistant, often beautifully symmetrical and one of the least botanically messy of trees, a Linden makes a perfectly lovely shade tree when planted in the right location. A wide variety of species and cultivars are available to choose from and several of them are represented here on campus. Having to decide on just one of Hood’s stunning Lindens for the tree walk was quite a challenge, as several are immense and impressive trees that cause many a tree-lover to stop and stare with mouth agape in wonder. The one before you is a European linden. Lindens have been popular landscaping choices all over the world for millennia, giving them tremendous cultural significance from Greece to the Baltic to merry old England, where though they are unrelated to citrus they are often known as lime trees. They have inspired poets and philosophers alike and with a simple search one can find a surprising number of historical and literary references exalting the virtues of lime trees.
Members of the Linden genus are one of the least botanically messy because there is not a terribly untidy flower drop (like a mimosa or crepe myrtle) nor are the seeds or pods especially annoying on the lawn (like redbud or sweetgum). However they CAN still be, shall we say…biologically messy? Linden trees are a favorite of an oddball little insect called an aphid that has what one might call a human foible--if there is food available they just keep eating and eating and eating, long after their hunger is satiated. Aphids make their living by using piercing mouthparts to suck liquids transported in a plant’s phloem. Because this juice is rich in sugar but poor in trace nutrients and protein, aphids need to suck a LOT of these juices to get everything they need. All this gluttony of sucking and sipping leads to the need to excrete all that surplus sugar water, charmingly called honeydew, which is why they make such a honey-please-don’t mess. Parked cars, understory plants, mailboxes, park benches, grocery carts and people can all become covered in sticky honeydew, which is essentially aphid diarrhea. However wasteful to the aphid this may seem, it has actually allowed them to co-evolve with a number of different insect species of bees and ants who love to drink their honeydew, which is a calorie-rich and free food source. In return, the ant species actually “farm” the aphids, tending them like a herd of cattle and protecting them from predators. Nature is grand!
12. Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), Non-native
A very popular landscaping tree, kousa dogwood trees have remarkable year -round interest with their copious white blooms in late spring, layers of lush green foliage with bright red berries in summer, flashy red fall color and then a winter focus on their extraordinary, colorful peeling bark resembling camouflage. Being very easy to grow successfully in just about any landscape situation also adds tremendously to their wide appeal. This tough little tree is more resistant to diseases and stress than our native flowering dogwood while still providing some wildlife value, even though it’s non-native from Asia. Interestingly, what we generally call blossoms on the dogwoods are actually not blossoms at all. The true blossoms of all the different species of dogwoods are actually very tiny but Mother Nature has located them in the center of very large modified leaves called bracts, which are bright white and attract the attention of hungry pollinators. These showy bracts draw them into the center where the actual blooms are located so that pollination can occur.
Resembling raspberries, the abundant fruit of kousa dogwood can be up to an inch wide and are edible by people as well as wildlife. It’s best to open the fruit and suck the pulp out, avoiding the grainy and somewhat bitter skin and then spitting out the seeds. The berries can also be used to make wine and the young leaves are edible as well making this tree an excellent choice to plant in preparation for a zombie apocalypse!
13. Golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), Non-native
An attractive, smallish tree for landscaping, golden raintrees are also known as China trees, pride of India and varnish trees. They are often grown because their lush, pinnately compound leaves make a lovely show in the landscape, but also because their beautiful spring blooms are followed by interesting, papery seed pods that persist into the late fall months. These are sometimes referred to as Chinese lanterns and are so large and numerous they can be seen from quite a distance. In China the trees are traditionally planted on the graves of scholars with the beautiful, upright blossoms paying homage to the departeds’ dedication to learning. Golden raintrees are members of the soapberry family, Sapindaceae, along with lychee and rambutans, two exotic fruits you might find in an Asian food store. Interestingly, more recent reorganizations of taxonomy based on genetic sequencing place maple trees and horse chestnuts in this family, as well.
While this is a beautiful and resilient little tree, able to tolerate poor soil and neglect, these very qualities make its potential to displace native species in our range very worrisome. It is classified as an invasive species here in Maryland and its planting wouldn’t be recommended. Enjoy this one, but please choose natives when possible to support native wildlife such as birds, moths, butterflies and other insects.
14. American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), Native
A tree of many aliases, the American hornbeam tree has such unusual form that one of its most apropos regional nicknames is musclewood. Note the smooth bark and the sinewy form of the larger upper limbs looking for all world like a well-muscled arm as it extends from the main trunk. On a younger tree, the entire tree would look like this, but this is an unusually old specimen so its trunk is large and has become scaly. Other common names include blue beech, ironwood and water beech. The Latin name is the loveliest to say aloud: Carpinus caroliniana, probably because the first specimen named by European botanists or explorers was located in the Carolinas. This happened often when Europeans first began to explore this continent so many plant species have names such as “virginiana” and “pennsylvanica” along with caroliniana, indicating where these species were first encountered. Another of its common names is ironwood because the wood is incredibly dense and hard making it an excellent choice for bowls and other dishes, levers, wedges and handles for striking tools such as axes. It has a rich, red color and would make gorgeous furniture if only the tree grew to a larger size or the wood were simply more available.
Looking like dangling hops, the seed pods of American hornbeam can be seen in late summer and fall and along with the catkins comprising the spring blooms, make an important food source for wildlife. Because the tree often retains its leaves in the winter, these trees also provide an important source of shelter for animals looking for a little protection from the winter elements. Note this lovely specimen is the Frederick County Champion American hornbeam at time of publication. Check it out on the mdbigtrees.com website.
This tree walk series has been developed by Bethany Dell'Angello, FCFCDB Member in coordination with Susan Simonson, Hood College.