This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info: guerinw@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Giant oaks, giant ragweed, and four other reasons to visit Wurster Park

1) Quercus muelenbergii: Wurster Park in Ann Arbor is best known (among people with a somewhat single-minded focus like me) for having the largest chinkapin oak in Michigan. It's in the southwest part of the park, and you can't miss it. Signs near the tree inform you that the area is being restored to native vegetation and politely ask you to keep your distance.

2) Nyssa sylvatica: North of the iconic chinkapin oak is a tupelo (blackgum) planted in the grassy area next to the path that leads into the woods.

3) Tilia americana: Take the path into the woods and the dominant tree is our native basswood which forms a delightful canopy of heart-shaped leaves. Other woody plants include additional chinkapin oaks and our two most common species of hickory.

4) Rhus glabra: Back into the grassy park, walk north along the western edge, down the slope, and you'll come to a large clonal mass of smooth sumac. This species is not quite as common as staghorn sumac which has velvet-covered twigs. Large pinnately-compound leaves, low stature and clonal habit: ergo a sumac. (Before you get to the sumac, also along the edge of the woods, you'll pass a mass of giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida). This of course will be much more conspicuous later in the year during hay-fever season. The leaves have three lobes, like a two-mitten sassafras. For a plant that supposedly relies on wind pollination, this species attracts a lot of insects when in flower.

4) Acer pseudoplatanus: Sycamore maple is not common in the Ann Arbor area. It does better along the eastern seaboard than in the midwest. The best local specimen I am aware of is located just south of the playground area. The leaves are the size of norway maple but with serrate margins and round lobes. The bark pattern is distinct as well. 

5) Ulmus rubra: Slippery elm is better known as a source for throat lozenges than as an actual plant. This species grows in these woods, and can perhaps best be found on the OTHER (south) side of the chinkapin oak, behind the large basswoods. These aren't big trees, mostly little sprouty things, but this type of elm can easily be identified by the insect damage to the leaves. No kidding. The leaves are always full of holes. Also the apex of the leaf blade usually has a lot more curl than that of the American elm. These are two distinguishing characteristics you won't find in a proper botanical key, but they are generally all you need.

6) Metasequoia glyptostroiboides: Dawn redwood certainly has one of the nicest Latin names! You'll find two very large specimens of this famous deciduous conifer in front of a house just south of the park on Edgewood Ct.

Wurster Park can best be accessed from Edgewood Ct off Davis (east of Fifth St).  There is also an entrance on W. Madison and one at the corner of W. Mosley and Third.

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