University of Tennessee
Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center
Oak Ridge Forest Cumberland Forest Highland Rim Forest Arboretum

Trees with Simple Leaves

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Fall Beech Leaves Winter Beech Leaves
Visitors to the Arboretum often ask "What is that tree with brown leaves on it all winter long?" The answer is the Beech tree, which is conspicuous along our trails with its golden-brown leaves of fall gradually becoming a duller brown as the winter progresses. In the spring, these leaves drop as the spear-shaped buds expand.

Fall Beech Leaves Winter Beech Leaves

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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Black Cherry Flowers Black Cherry is commonly found along many trails at the Arboretum. Under a dense forest canopy, the trees are often small and shrub-sized with few flowers or fruits. Larger trees can be found in more open areas such as forest edges or forest openings where the fast-growing black cherries can better compete for light.

Black Cherry Black cherries which are relished by birds and other small animals have been ripening this past week. Birds distribute large numbers of the seeds widely. Trees loaded with fruit can be seen near the Program Shelter next to the dogwood plantings and just below the Shade Tree Orchard. The bark of young Black Cherries is smooth and reddish brown or gray with well-defined horizontal lenticels.

Older trees have more furrowed, platy bark which turns up at the edges. In the past, extracts of the bark have been used in cough medicines and various tonics. The leaves and twigs contain a cyanide compound which has been implicated in the death of horses and other livestock. The wood is used extensively for veneer, furniture, and lumber.

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Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

Summer Black Gum Blackgum (also called Black Tupelo or Sourgum) is a common tree in our Arboretum forests. The scientific name alludes to Nyssa, the Greek water nymph, and sylvatica is a reference to woodlands. The origin of the common name Blackgum is unclear but may refer to the dark blue-purple fruit. The shiny, alternate leaves are usually elliptic in shape, often wider above the middle with a pointed tip, and from 2-5in. long. In the fall they turn red, orange, or almost purple.

Fall Black Gum The branches grow out perpendicular to the trunk, somewhat resembling the spokes on a wheel, and older branches tend to droop. The trees are either predominately male or female, but often a few flowers of the opposite sex are present. The small, dark blue fruits (drupes) are found in the fall this year our trees appear to be bearing few, if any, fruits. The fleshy fruit is eaten by birds, squirrels, and other small mammals, while young leaves provide forage for deer. The tree may grow to heights of 60-100 ft., and can live to be over 400 years old.

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Black Oak (Quercus velutina)

Black Oak Leaves and Bark Black Oak is in the "red oak" subdivision and is found on many of the trails at the Arboretum and especially in the Oak Ridge area. The name of the city was chosen because of it's location near "Black Oak Ridge".

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Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica)

Blackjack Oak Leaf

Blackjack Oak is one of the less common oaks along Arboretum trails. Scattered individuals can be seen along Marsh Road and elsewhere on drier sites. Its presence most likely indicates past clearing for crops and/or a history of fire. Blackjack Oak may invade disturbed sites along with Shortleaf and Virginia Pine and can remain a component of the maturing deciduous forest for many years. Its distinctive leathery leaves are broadest at the tip with 3-5 bristle-tipped, rounded lobes. The lower leaf surface is velvety and rusty brown, while the upper surface is a shiny dark green.

Blackjack Oak Bark The bark is thick, blocky, and dark, almost black. It is found throughout the eastern US south from New York and the Midwestern states and west to Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Missouri. It is a major component of the Cross Timbers bordering the plains at the western edge of its distribution, and it is also an important constituent of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. The wood has been used to make charcoal, railroad cross-ties, and fuel.

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The White Oak Group (Quercus spp.)

Several types of white oaks are producing abundant acorns this year. The acorn production (mast) from these oaks provides an important food for such animals as deer, squirrels, turkeys, and bears. The acorns of white oaks need 1 year to mature; red oaks require 2 years. White oaks have lobed leaves or ones with rounded teeth, while red oaks generally have sharp-lobed, bristle-tipped leaves.

White Oak (Quercus alba)

White Oak Acorns White Oak Leaf White Oak (Q. alba) is one of the most common oaks found along Arboretum trails. Its acorns, which occur in clusters of two or three, are often green when they first fall but at maturity are a rich brown.

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Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana)

Chestnut Oak Acorns Chestnut Oak Leaf Chestnut Oak (Q. montana) is also common along our trails and is especially conspicuous along the Lost Chestnut Trail. The large (up to 1 1/2 in.) acorns have a thin, warty cap and are shiny and brown to black at maturity.

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Post Oak (Quercus stellata)

Post Oak Acorns Post Oak Leaf Scattered individuals of Post Oak (Q. stellata) are found at the Arboretum. Typical leaves are broader at the top and often resemble a cross. The relatively small acorns (up to 3/4 inch long) are covered for 1/3 to 1/2 their length by a bowl-shaped cup.

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Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

Bur Oak Acorns Bur Oak Leaf The range of Bur Oak (Q. macrocarpa) extends into northwestern Tennessee, but is centered in the Midwest. Several individuals are found in the Oak Collection near the Program Shelter. Bur Oak has broad spatulate leaves and produces large acorns (up to 2 inches long) with a distinctive fringed cup.

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Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

Catalpa Beans Two large Northern Catalpa trees (also known as Indian Bean Tree or Cigar Tree) are found near the Juniper Collection, east of the Arboretum Program Shelter. The genus name Catalpa purportedly comes from a Cherokee Indian word for bean tree the seed pod, which is conspicuous at this time of year, has a long, bean-like shape. Catalpa belongs to the Bignoniacea family, which also includes Cross Vine and Trumpet Creeper.

Northern Catalpa

The natural range for Northern Catalpa includes western Tennessee and other parts of the Central Mississippi Valley. It has been widely planted in urban areas and on farms to provide materials for fence posts. The showy white flowers that give rise to the elongate seed pods appear in late spring.

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Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (Cornus mas)

Cornelian Cherry Dogwood Cornelian Cherry Dogwood is a multi-stemmed, small tree or shrub native to Central and Southern Europe and Western Asia. This dogwood is one of the earliest flowering trees at the Arboretum - the first blooms are frequently evident in the collection in mid February. The numerous, small yellow clusters of flowers appear before the leaves.

A major research collection of Cornelian Cherry Dogwood cultivars is present along Arboretum Drive and behind the Juniper Garden and Conifer Collection. The project was initiated in 1997 to identify plants with exceptional ornamental value (flowering, fruiting, and form) that are hearty in this climate. Value to wildlife is also being considered. Seeds for these plants were collected from native trees growing in Romania and Croatia.

Cornelian Cherry Dogwood The fruit, which matures in summer, is bright red and olive-shaped. In its native habitat the fruit is used for syrup and jams. As a landscape plant it can be used for a shrub border, hedge, screen, and foundation planting around large buildings. Its yellow flowers appearing early in the spring - before most other flowering shrubs - make it an attractive landscape feature.

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Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Dogwood The familiar "dogwood" that puts on a spectacular show of brilliant white and pink blossoms in early April is the Flowering Dogwood of the Cornus florida species. It is found throughout the Arboretum but especially near the Program Shelter where a dogwood research project is located.

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Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

Fall Ginkgo Ginkgo (or Maidenhair Tree) is putting on its spectacular fall display. For a short period its leaves turn bright yellow, and then almost overnight they fall to the ground creating a conspicuous leaf shadow under the tree's spreading branches. A well-developed Ginkgo can be seen across the Arboretum entrance road from the Visitors' Center. Several Ginkgos can also be seen in the Shade Tree Study Area near the Program Shelter.

Ginkgo Leaves Ginkgo is a Gymnosperm its developing ovules and seeds are not enclosed in an ovary. Its fan-shaped leaves resemble those of Maidenhair Fern (hence its common name) and have dichotomous (forked) venation. Ginkgo is well-represented in the fossil record. For thousands of years it only survived in temple gardens in China. The tree is often referred to as a living fossil. Ginkgo is dioecious with separate male and female trees. The male trees are most commonly planted because the female trees produce fruits with a strong, malodorous odor. Ginkgos are hardy trees that are planted in many parts of the U.S. and elsewhere.

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Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

Pawpaw blossom Attracting Beetle A planting of Pawpaws below the Program shelter began blooming in early April. Colonies of Pawpaw are also found along several trails, but these rarely bloom. Pawpaw is the northernmost member of the subtropical and tropical plant family Annonaceae. The bell-shaped flowers have six brown to purple petals. The stamens and pistils are borne on a raised receptacle. The flowers have a fetid smell that attracts beetles and flies as pollinators.

Pawpaw fruit The large, fleshy, edible fruit (up to 16 cm long) matures in September and October and has been described as having a taste similar to a mixture of banana, mango and pineapple. Pawpaws are eaten raw or processed into deserts such as pies and ice cream, though they may cause stomach trouble for some people. They are eaten by a variety of wildlife. Recent research indicates Pawpaw has potential as an anti-cancer drug and as a pesticide. It is found throughout the Eastern U.S., except in New England, and as far west as Nebraska.

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Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Redbud Blossoms One of the most beautiful and conspicuous trees at the Arboretum in April is the Redbud. This tree is most commonly seen at forest edges, in disturbed areas, or in managed landscapes. Redbud is a member of the bean family (Fabaceae), and in a natural setting is an early invader of disturbed areas where it grows quickly but is generally short lived (20-25 years). Distinguishing characteristics of Redbud include its rose-pink, pea-like flowers, its heart-shaped leaves, and its flat, brown, bean-like pods.

Redbud At the Arboretum you will see Redbud along several trails and bordering some open areas. A research planting near the Program Shelter is in full bloom. The larger trees in this area are survivors of a failed research study originally planted in 1995. A new planting of redbuds was made in 2007 next to these older trees; the young trees are just becoming established. The objective of the current study is to evaluate Chinese Redbuds and ones from a northern location in the United States for potential introduction in Eastern Tennessee.

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Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple Red Maple Leaves
Red Maple is found on a wide variety of sites throughout the Arboretums forests. Its fall foliage presents a brilliant display of color from bright yellow and orange to red. The opposite, palmate leaves are mostly 3-lobed but sometimes have 5 lobes. In the summer, the leaf petioles (leaf stalks) are often red and the undersides of the leaves are pale green to silver. In spring, red maple is one of the earliest trees to bloom (as early as February or March). Its small red flowers produce abundant seeds that are eaten by squirrels, birds, and other wildlife.

Red maple is found throughout the Eastern U.S. and Midwest from the Maritimes in Canada and New England, to Florida, and west to Texas and Minnesota and states in-between. A number of excellent cultivars are available that are among the most popular landscaping tree species available.

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Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Sassafras Blossoms Sassafras Leaves Sassafras Fall Leaves

Sassafras, a tree frequently seen along Arboretum trails, has distinctive leaves varying from a common 3-lobed shape, to a mitten shape, to an elliptical or oval unlobed leaf. This year its small greenish-yellow flowers came out in early April before the leaves. In October, the orange, red, to almost pink leaves contribute to a brilliant display of fall colors. The dark blue fruits (drupes) can be seen in September before they are quickly consumed by birds.

Sassafras is widely distributed in the Eastern and Midwestern US, ranging south from southern Maine and Michigan (and southern Ontario), and west to Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It can grow to heights of 60-70ft in the Arboretum forests, it is most commonly a member of the understory and lower canopy where it is often found growing in clonal clumps. It is an early invader of disturbed areas and can often be seen along forest edges.

Sassafras has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes. The roots and bark have been used for making Sassafras tea and root beer flavoring, and ground-up leaves are used to make Fil powder, a food thickening agent used in Cajun cooking. Safrole, a carcinogenic component of sassafras oil, has been banned for use as a flavoring by the US Food and Drug Administration.

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Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)

Sourwood A small to medium-sized tree, Sourwood is found along many Arboretum trails. As a member of the Ericaceae Family, it is related to such plants as blueberries, rhododendrons, and azaleas. The white, bell-shaped flowers are borne in terminal one-sided clusters and become conspicuous in June. The fruits persist on the flower stalks often into the fall and winter. Because the flowers are often near the top of the trees, they may be difficult to see under a forest canopy. A good place to observe these trees in bloom is in a study plot of Sourwood just below the Elmore Holly Collection.

Fall Sourwood The ridged and often deeply furrowed bark of Sourwood is readily identified especially in older trees where it becomes blocky. In the fall, the leaves turn bright red. The trees common name comes from the sour taste of the leaves and twigs. Leaves and bark of Sourwood were used by Native Americans and early settlers to treat a variety of ailments such as mouth ulcers, asthma, indigestion, and kidney and bladder ailments. Sourwood honey is a favorite of many.

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Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)

Southern Red Oak Leaf and Acorn Southern Red Oak is one of several red oak species at the Arboretum. The red oaks have sharply lobed leaves that are bristle-tipped and their acorns require 2 years to mature. Other common native red oaks occurring here include Black Oak (Q. velutina), Scarlet Oak (Q. coccinea), Northern Red Oak (Q. rubra), and Blackjack Oak (Q. marilandica). Red oaks differ from white oaks in having rounded leaf lobes or teeth without bristle tips and acorns that require only 1 year to mature. Southern Red Oak has distinctive alternate leaves which are shiny on the upper surface and rusty colored pubescent on the underside. Leaves on mature trees are deeply divided with long, sharply pointed lobed tips and 2-4 curved side lobes that are bristle-tipped. The leaf base tends to be rounded and resembles a turkey foot. Young trees may have bell-shaped leaves with 3-5 rounded bristle-tipped lobes. These leaves often resemble those of Blackjack Oak.

Southern Red Oak Bark The dark bark has scaly ridges separated by deep narrow furrows. The acorns are orange-brown at maturity and their caps cover 1/3 or less of the nut. The acorns are important food for wildlife, and the wood is used as lumber for many purposes.

A closely related species, Cherrybark Oak (Q. pagoda) has been considered a variety of Scarlet Oak, but it is now recognized as a separate species. It is typically found along coastal plains in the Eastern U.S., while Scarlet Oak occurs on drier upland sites throughout the Southeast.

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Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Sweetgum Fruit Sweetgum is a deciduous tree that holds onto its leaves late into the fall. In December one can still find occasional trees with a few yellow to purple leaves along with conspicuous stalked, spiny fruits hanging from the branches. At the Arboretum, Sweetgum is most commonly found along the Old Kerr Hollow Road in a relatively moist habitat.

Sweetgum Leaf Sweetgum is found in much of the Eastern U.S. south of New England. The fruits consist of seed pods united into dense spiny balls. The bark is deeply furrowed into narrow ridges, and the twigs often develop corky ridges along their length. The lobed leaves, which resemble maple, have a pungent odor when crushed. The gum from which Sweetgum derives its common name has been used since before the 16th century for incense, perfumery and medicinal purposes. Sweetgum lumber has a variety of uses such as furniture, crates, cabinets, and barrels, and its distinctive heartwood is often referred to as "red gum" lumber. It is also an important shade tree.

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Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Tulip Poplar Tulip Poplar (or Yellow Poplar) is the state tree of Tennessee and is found throughout the Arboretum, where it is a prominent member of the deciduous forest replacing shortleaf and Virginia pines. Tulip Poplar is recognized by its tall straight trunks, its tulip-shaped flowers, and its distinctive leaves.

Because the yellow-green, tulip-shaped, upright flowers are found high in the tree canopy, they are often difficult to see. Look for yellow to cream flower parts on the ground beneath the trees; then look up to see the flowers. Tulip Poplar belongs to the Magnolia Family - two other native members of this family are found in the Arboretum forests - Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) and Umbrella Magnolia (M. tripetala). Look for these native species as you walk the Arboretum trails.

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University of Tennessee - Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center
901 South Illinois Avenue, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830 · Telephone: 865-483-3571 · Email: UTforest@utk.edu