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Old 11-03-2021, 01:37 PM   #1
montcalm
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Help with Tree ID

There's a particular Oak I've seen planted in a park that I cannot figure out.. It may not be a particular species but a defect... but there are at least 4 of them in this particular area.

As I mentioned they are in a man-made park so I wouldn't bet they are anything native. They are near a freeway (elevated) and I've noticed them for years because they just look so weird. I finally got a chance to walk over to them and look at one close. I didn't take a pic, perhaps I will but they may be devoid of leaves by the time I can do that.

Anyway, the leaves aren't anything special. They look like a white oak with very shallow lobes, much like the leaf of a chestnut oak, but perhaps a bit wider a more lobed than crenate. I know there's a big variation here within those two species from what I have seen. The general shape is obovate, about 4x2.5" or so on the lower branches.

The bark looks to me very reminiscent of bur oak. It's (mostly) parallel and deeply ridged, without many horizontal breaks and very light grey on the tops of the ridges.

All those identifiers are not what bother me. It's the branching. It has very large branches which then stop at what are almost like nodes with 10's of very small branches protruding outward like a scrubby bush. The "nodes" occur at relatively far spaces and foliage only grows on those small "bushes" making the tree look very odd in that it has not a full, spreading crown (these trees are well spaced), but full spreading, thick branches (all with those pronounced ridges) with those small scrubby portions dotting the tree.

Perhaps these aren't special trees but are being harmed by the road pollution. I didn't spend enough time to look for an acorn, but perhaps I will, although I didn't see any on the tree I looked at closely.

There are a number of (what I believe are) bur oaks planted close by in another section of the park, away from the road. The leaves are slightly different but the bark looks similar. The bur oak had a number of different leaf variants that I could see that I believe correspond to the shapes of that species. I didn't find any acorns to confirm they are bur oak though.

At any rate, that other grove does not have that strange branching. The upper branches of the bur oaks looks like the other "ugly" trees but they all have much more dense, full crowns with lots of leaves and none of that weird, ugly bush branching.

I've searched a number of different references and I can't find anything regarding that weird branching, so perhaps it's an environmental impact.

Last edited by montcalm; 11-03-2021 at 08:34 PM..
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Old 11-03-2021, 01:48 PM   #2
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Do you have any photos? It sort of sounds like based on your description that the oaks with the weird branching pattern may have had a crown reduction at some point.
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Old 11-03-2021, 01:50 PM   #3
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No but I'll go take some soon.

I'm really leaning that they may be bur oaks that as you say, were pruned, or just aren't getting ideal growing conditions.

Some are quite big - I'd guess around 80' high or so. The one I examined close was much smaller, so there's a decent variation.

This (internet) image of a bur oak is the closest picture match I can find.

https://shop2.arborday.org/data/defa...ey/1/1-874.jpg

But with much more scrubby and sparse foliage.
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Old 11-03-2021, 04:13 PM   #4
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Try swamp white oak
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Old 11-03-2021, 06:43 PM   #5
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Try swamp white oak
Sure does look it based on leaves alone. I couldn't quite tell about the top/bottom contrast as they've changed color at this point.

I've seen other trees I'm sure are swamp white oaks, and they don't look like these, but of course that doesn't mean much. Really still hung up on the shape of the foliage and branching. I've never seen a swamp or white oak so scragly looking.
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Old 11-03-2021, 08:03 PM   #6
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Ahhh - google maps!

Seen as how they are by the road, I was able to take a screenshot of exactly what I was seeing.

Look at the new growth.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Untitled presentation (4).jpg (96.5 KB, 116 views)
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Old 11-03-2021, 10:36 PM   #7
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Hmm, intentional crown reduction seems less likely, as if that were the case, then the trees theoretically would have a much more... aesthetic looking crown (even, symmetrical, etc.).

I found the same tree on Google Maps also and took a closer look at it through streetview. This sort of branching pattern is common to oaks although I can't recall ever having seen it to this extent. Oaks will often get "bud clusters" at the end of each twig, eventually resulting a branching pattern that will at least occasionally include clustered young branches all originating from the same point on an older branch. But it's usually like 3 or maybe 4 young branches in a cluster, not... over a dozen as can be spotted on the tree in question.

At the same time, some of those trees do not look super particularly healthy- the crown seems kind of patchy, you can see a number of dead branches, etc. Hard to tell for sure from a photo alone. Might just be the site being located so close to the interstate, like you say. Going into overdrive by sending out lots of young branches can be a stress response in trees, though, so it's possible that this is the cause.

Or it may just be some weird specific variety/cultivar that has this genotype.
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Old 11-03-2021, 10:56 PM   #8
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Thanks for the responses.

I guess perhaps some more history/info needed here that I was avoiding as to not overcomplicate.

This is in Genesee Valley Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. This was part of the original park commissioned around 1890. Most of the mature trees date to this time and believe most were all nursery trees.

Anyway, this part of the park was first traversed by the Erie canal and then, probably sometime in the 50's the freeway system (which is a shame as it breaks right through an historic and beautiful park, but I digress)...

Those ratty looking trees grow right up against the freeway, and just south of the canal. It's almost hard for me to imagine the road was constructed without disturbing them if they were part of the original FLO park design. They may have been planted after the highway was constructed, but are oddly close. And at least 5 or 6 of them look to be very old, or very stressed. These are the biggest ones and closest to the highway, almost growing over the barrier. The highway is elevated over a small side canal and the Genesee river further down. There seem to be a number of smaller ones as well, which look similar but perhaps germinated from acorns later on. They might all be the same age and just have site limitations for growth.

I did find a picture of a 200yr old Bur Oak which did look similar, if not as scraggly. It did have that nodal, really tight clumpy foliage on large branches.

I also have heard/seen of those crazy shoots occurring on pest infested trees. All of the ones near the road look like that, and as soon as you move 50 yards away, all the oaks look "normal" again. There are a number of what I believe are large, full, healthy bur oaks, white oaks, red oaks and maybe a swamp white or two near the creek not too far away. None look anything like the freeway trees.

At any rate, some of these parks were planted with natives, a lot of red and white oaks, but there are often some weird cultivars or exotic trees, even dating way back to the initial park design. From what I can tell GVP mostly has natives, as I think it was designed to not look designed. And Highland, the other park from this era is the arboretum.
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Old 11-05-2021, 06:55 PM   #9
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So I've probably spent far too much time on this already but this is what I've figured right now:

1 - the trees are swamp white oak, or a maybe a hybrid of them and bur oak. All the indicators I've looked at point to this. Good call St. Regis.

2 - I think they are suffering. My guess would be salt intolerance, but you don't see a lot of these types of trees on roadside in NY, so who knows. It could be exhaust pollution as well. Walking down under the freeway there is some strong scent of hydrocarbon and other exhaust products. I noticed a couple large dead trunks too - I think these were once the same type of tree. Right in the same location, right up against the highway.

I'm going to keep a eye out and see if I see any swamp whites that look like this. Never saw it before but it's not exactly a common tree in NY.

I think there are quite a few of them too that look like that all in the same area - at least 10, all within 100' or so of the freeway.
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Old 11-08-2021, 02:38 PM   #10
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I found a roadside swamp white oak today. This is typically what I think of this tree looking like when grown in the open. I found a number of forest trees as well - not sure if they were planted and then colonized as this is another county park. I couldn't find one that had the weird branching. This is a lot less salted road than a 6 lane elevated superhighway but this tree looked healthy as can be. I saw a few others similar size and conditions on the same road.







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Old 11-11-2021, 06:28 PM   #11
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This one gave me some trouble and I'm still not 100% convinced I'm correct...








You may see what drew me to look closer at this tree. I think it is stressed or dying although it's not obvious why. Sorry I couldn't get a better leaf picture, but there were 4 sets of leaves on that leaflet + the terminal leaf. What was on the tree and what I could still see on the ground looked to be the same. No nuts found.
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Old 11-11-2021, 07:03 PM   #12
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Also regarding some of my other questions:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch%27s_broom
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Old 11-11-2021, 10:41 PM   #13
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The last set of pictures look like it could be a butternut. If you can reach a branch, check out the buds and leaf scars. The leaf photo is tough to tell....it's pretty crispy and may have lost some leaflets. The bark of the tree has that plained off look - like a light colored walnut, but with a smooth surface. Also, a lot of butternut around the state are stressed or dying from an introduced canker. Deep fissures and splitting in the bark are tell tale signs. If it produced nuts they'd probably be gone by now...the squirrels relish them
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Old 11-11-2021, 10:55 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by St.Regis View Post
The last set of pictures look like it could be a butternut. If you can reach a branch, check out the buds and leaf scars. The leaf photo is tough to tell....it's pretty crispy and may have lost some leaflets. The bark of the tree has that plained off look - like a light colored walnut, but with a smooth surface. Also, a lot of butternut around the state are stressed or dying from an introduced canker. Deep fissures and splitting in the bark are tell tale signs. If it produced nuts they'd probably be gone by now...the squirrels relish them
That's what I think it is too.

It didn't appear to have any cankers that I could see.

Apparently there's a disease called Bunch disease that causes that witch's broom on Butternut - here it is on a Pecan, a cousin:

http://entoweb.okstate.edu/ddd/disea...nchdisease.htm


I really wanted to think this was a Butternut as there was a HUGE, spreading Black Walnut planted right up the way from it - seemed like it would be fitting landscaping but I've not seen many, and the pics I've seen don't necessarily look similar. If I would have found a nut that would have been easy.

At first I thought it might be an dying Ash, but it looked far too small and the smooth sections where the branches diverge didn't look like Ash. Some real investigation it can easily be seen that it has alternate and not opposite branching, so def not an Ash.

It didn't look like a Hickory to me, but it didn't seem like it had enough leaflets to be a Walnut. I'm glad I took pics - I really had to convince myself. But I think the bark is the tell. It's said Butternut has straight lines of bark that separate into lacing. And I did manage to find some pics of Butternut bark that looks exactly like that does.

Last edited by montcalm; 11-12-2021 at 03:57 PM..
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Old 11-12-2021, 07:12 AM   #15
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It's often easier said than done, but looking at the twigs really helps with tree ID, especially during the leaf off period
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Old 11-12-2021, 10:13 AM   #16
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For sure. Would have been easy on that one. I looked at the leaf and could count the scars there to determine how many leaflets. 9 appears on both hickories and walnuts. It’s right in between. Most pics I have seen have more than 9 and black walnut almost always has many more.

I forgot at the time but I think butternut has a *white inner pith that can help identify.


*dark

Last edited by montcalm; 11-12-2021 at 02:21 PM..
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Old 11-12-2021, 03:54 PM   #17
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I see most witch's broom around here on smaller willows. No idea what species though. Salix is is tough group to sort out. If you can master willow ID, you're a damn good botanist. There are a ton of them, their growth patterns are variable, and fidelity isn't their thing
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Old 11-12-2021, 03:58 PM   #18
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Don't know much about them... lots of trees that grow in places I don't like to go. Unless they get planted in someone's lawn.

I did find some witch's broom on another swamp oak. Apparently it can be caused by a number of things but it's a defect in growth hormones. This tree had a vine growing on it, but I don't think it was the cause of the defect. I think a lot of it is microscopic.
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Old 11-12-2021, 07:35 PM   #19
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So I made some other observations regarding the original trees I was asking about. I've since seen a number of swamp white oak on roadsides (just had to find where to look and have a sharp eye). Most were very good looking trees - I saw one that had some oddness but it was trimmed for a telephone line, and I don't think it had a true witch's broom. I don't think they are much bothered by the road or a little salt.

I did read something else that made me raise an eyebrow. Concrete, and simply the weathering of a structure can be highly toxic to certain trees. Concrete from buildings when planting in urban settings was mentioned, but I'd imagine a large concrete bridge is no different.

One other observation I made is I saw a number of them not looking so good along railroad tracks - actually a lot of not-so-good looking trees. Trimming seems not to be in their favor and these were heavily trimmed (and it was obvious). Also I had some other thoughts that the train could be a long distance vector for pathogens, or perhaps leaking chemicals.

All speculation and discourse but swamp oak is far more common around these parts that I had thought. I just didn't have the eye for it. The bark is highly variable as it ages but the bark on upper branches almost always has the flaky look (although I've seen some known white oak that have this as well). I've recently spotted a million of them mixed in with Red Oaks on old farmlands. This time of year is particularly great for spotting them because a lot of other trees have lost their leaves. They color a little bit differently than the red oaks but really they just have a different structure and bark which is pretty easy to see from a distance.
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Old 11-12-2021, 11:20 PM   #20
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I did read something else that made me raise an eyebrow. Concrete, and simply the weathering of a structure can be highly toxic to certain trees. Concrete from buildings when planting in urban settings was mentioned, but I'd imagine a large concrete bridge is no different.
This theory may bear some fruit as these oaks apparently prefer acidic soils and degradation of cement in the concrete from acidic rain may increase the soil pH.
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