LSU’s campus just had its Fall break, which means no class during the week for students. My friends and I decided to take advantage of the rare cool fall weather in Louisiana and drive to Clark Creek Natural Area in Woodville, Mississippi. One of my friends had just completed her dendrology course (the scientific study of trees), so she was identifying trees for us along the hike. Here is just a small sample of the beautiful wilderness found in Clark Creek:
Scientific Name: Callicarpa americana
The American beautyberry can grow five to eight feet tall and almost as wide with drooping branches. The stems of the branches are slender with a gray to reddish brown color. The leaves on the branches have an elliptical to ovate shape with tiny, jagged edges. The small berry clusters contain two to four seeds that are about 1/16 inches long in length. Many animals, such as multiple species of birds, armadillos, raccoons, and gray foxes, depend on these berries for food.
The Agricultural Research Service studied this plant and found two unique compounds – callicarpenal and intermedeol. These chemical compounds, found in the leaves of the American beautyberry plant, makes the plant a good repellent for mosquitos. Historically, farmers in the earlier part of the 20th century would crush the leaves and rub it on their skin to repel mosquitos. Before the farmers used the American beautyberry, several Native American tribes used the plant for medicinal purposes. For example, the roots and berries were boiled into a liquid that the Native Americans drank to treat colic.
Further information and citation: http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_caam2.pdf
Scientific Name: Carpinus caroliniana
Musclewood is just one of the many common names for American hornbeam. Other names the tree is known by are ironwood, muscle beech, blue beech and water beech. The two subspecies of American hornbean are Carpinus caroliniana Walter ssp. caroliniana and Carpinus caroliniana Walter ssp. virginiana. There are distinct physical differences between the leaf shape and length of the two species that makes them distinguishable. Subsp. caroliniana has leaves that are a narrow oval shape that are shorter than the leaves of subsp. virginiana that abruptly narrow at the tip. Also the two subspecies are found in different parts of the United States. The tree produces seeds, buds, or catkins that are a food source for a variety of creatures, such as songbirds, turkeys and foxes. American hornbeam trees are not very large but the wood from the tree does not crack or split easily which is why American pioneers used it to make bowls and dishes. Beavers also use American hornbeams to build dams, and they eat the leaves, twigs and stems because it is typically found in beaver habitat areas.
Further information and citation: http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_caca18.pdf
Yellow poplar and poison ivy
Scientific name: Liriodendron tulipifera
Interestingly, the yellow poplar tree is not classified as a poplar but is actually classified under the magnolia family. The leaves of the yellow poplar tree are typically smooth with a dark green in color and tulip shape. Flowers that bloom on the yellow poplar are light greenish-yellow in a tulip shape. The wood of the yellow poplar is used for furniture stock, veneer and pulpwood for paper production because it is soft, smooth and easily workable. Since yellow poplar can grow very quickly it is often planted in reforestation efforts.
Further information and citation: http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_litu.pdf
Scientific name: Toxicodendron radicans
As the old saying goes, “Leaves of three, let them be.” Despite the number of leaves, the color of the leaves changes from reddish yellow to green based on the season of the year. Poison ivy contains a sap called urushiol that covers the root, stems, flowers and leaves. The urushiol is the cause of the irritations and rash in people. The rash cannot be spread by touching blisters on skin; however, if there are remnants of urushiol on cloth or even animal fur, then a rash can develop.
Further information and citation: http://www.mga.edu/risk-management/docs/environmental-services/Poison_Ivy_Fact_Sheet.pdf
Southern magnolia tree in the early stages
Scientific name: Magnolia grandiflora
The United States National Arboretum has listed magnolias as one of the oldest tree species in the world. In fact, the southern magnolia is often harvested for its wood because it is the hardest and heaviest of all the magnolia species. The Southern magnolia is a flowering evergreen tree with a straight light brown/gray-brown trunk and thick leaves that have a shiny surface on top and fuzzy texture below. Because of their similar appearance, Southern magnolia can sometimes be confused with the Rhododendron maximum, better known by its common name – the great laurel. The beautiful white, fragrant flowers on the Southern magnolia are monoecious which means the flower contains both male and female reproductive parts. Even though the Southern magnolia tree is just beginning to grow in this picture, Southern magnolia trees can grow to be as tall as they are wide.
Further information and citation: http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_magr4.pdf
These are just a few examples of the amazing flora I was able to see at Clark Creek. The next time you go on a hike, you can use the plants database from the United States Department of Agriculture to see what plants are native to the area. Take some pictures, write down some observations, and maybe even become an amateur dendrologist by the end of the day. But no matter what, you can always enjoy the beauty of nature.
Written by Colleen Murphy
All photos courtesy of Jake Yount